I am probably not the first to come up with this analogy (and I am on a flight without wifi, so I can’t look it up either) but it just struck me that there are big parallels between SOPA and Prohibition. How? In that the unintended consequences will far outweigh the benefits, especially when it comes to crime. Prohibition didn’t stop the consumption of alcohol. It just drove it underground. In doing so it not only supported the creation of a large infrastructure for illegal activity (e.g. gambling) but also made lots of everyday citizens complicit.
An ever harder crackdown on the sharing of copyrighted materials is now similarly fueling the creation of “darknets” - networks that are using the Internet solely as a transport layer but are otherwise disconnected (much like using the roads to transport alcohol during prohibition). I don’t mean to suggest that these new networks are being designed specifically for illegal activities but they will certainly make it much easier for those to take place More importantly, darknets will break much of what makes the Internet such a powerful force for good at the moment: the open sharing of ideas. If anything what we need is a softening of copyright and other IP enforcement to allow a further blossoming of this new public space.
One way to potentially accomplish this is to have a mandatory licensing scheme. We have such as scheme in place for Internet radio but not for on demand audio or video. Post prohibition anyone was able to set up a liquor store, but they still needed to get a license to do so. The legal framework switched from prohibition to regulation and the illegal activity receded. We need a similar approach to intellectual property. A recent report on copyright and IP commissioned by the UK government made a recommendation in this direction. P.S. Sorry, no links right now as I am writing on mobile.