I’m mulling over developments around the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA, warning a PDF), a new bill going through the US Congress regarding copyright and the Web.

The American Library Association, Association of Research Libraries, and the Association of College and Research Libraries wrote a very alarming letter about the harmful impacts of SOPA. In case any archaeologists out there haven’t noticed, archaeological research is very dependent on libraries. This is increasingly the case for digital archaeology, where digital archaeological projects greatly benefit from the expertise, infrastructure, and collaboration of our colleagues in digital library programs. For example, Open Context benefits from digital preservation services provided by the California Digital Library. Similarly, tDAR also taps into library infrastructure, as it uses the CDL’s EZID service for managing persistent identifiers.

Librarians are mainly concerned about how the bill defines “willful infringement” of copyright. The bill expands the definition of “willful infringement” to include activities that don’t have a commercial purpose. Even non-commercial infringement would be a felony crime (with very draconian penalties), and that means libraries will be at great risk for being dragged into court.

What does this mean for digital archaeology and open science? It’s really hard to tell at this stage but I think we should worry, and worry a lot! As I wrote about, archaeologists depend upon libraries. If libraries run the risk of facing criminal prosecution for doing their job, then their costs will balloon and they will become risk adverse – to say the least. Those costs will be passed on to researchers and students, meaning library services to our discipline will suffer. We would see less access to archaeological literature and data, less innovation in digital data sharing efforts, and lots more confusion about what is or is not criminal infringement.

Mainly, I worry about what this means for data archiving and dissemination, an issue at the heart of my professional interests. Are these projects at risk for felony charges if there’s a copyright dispute? Would projects like Open Context get shut down and get blacklisted if someone makes an accusation of copyright infringement? What digital libraries want to run the risk of backing up these projects and archiving our data should this bill pass? Since nobody but lawyers really understand what constitutes copyright infringement, this is a major concern.

Anyway, these are my initial thoughts and worries. If anyone has better information and analysis of this bill, I’d love to see it! In the meantime, I think the picture below says it all:

A librarian at an Occupy protest (Source: kimyadawson via http://theillustratednerdgirl.tumblr.com/post/11149745396/its-true-you-guys-librarians-know-whats-up)