The Impossibility Of SOPA

It has been suggested that if SOPA or PIPA pass, then sites with user-generated content would need to review it all manually for copyright violations.

What would it look like for YouTube, if a reviewer had to watch every minute of video?

  • About 48 hours of video a minute is uploaded to YouTube (that figure is from May 2011, so it’s probably more now, but let’s go with that as a conservative estimate)
  • 48 hours a minute is 483,840 hours a week
  • If the reviewers worked 40-hour weeks, you would need 12,096 of them (plus a thousand or so more for holiday cover) – call it 13,000
  • If you paid them all at the US Federal minimum wage of about $15,000, it would cost $195 million per year.

But, of course, you couldn’t start the reviewers straight out of high school. First, they’d need to watch the 100 years of video which has been submitted to YouTube by content owners, so they knew a copyright violation when they saw one. (They wouldn’t be able to detect copyright violations of the content of independent filmmakers or individuals, but hey, this system isn’t about them, is it?)

The problem is that after watching 100 years of video, those who aren’t dead would have pretty poor eyesight. It would also introduce an unacceptable delay in getting the system up and running. So the job needs to be parallelized. Specialization is the key. One set of reviewers could watch all the musicals, and another could focus on vampire movies. (They might need paying extra.) If we got each trainee reviewer to spend 3 years exclusively watching Hollywood movies, TV network serials and listening to major-label music (drawing parallels with the average college degree is left as an exercise for the reader) then we could get the system up and running faster. However, we’d need 33 times more reviewers – 429,000 in all, making the cost $6.4 billion.

For comparison, 429,000 people is about 1 in 30 of the entire jobless population of the USA, and $6.4 billion is approximately 60% of Google’s annual profits. These resources would be spent entirely on content checking for YouTube, without considering Google’s other sites which take user-generated content, or Facebook, or any other social site.

There is just too much user-generated content to check it all manually, and automatic methods will never be 100% effective. So how do SOPA proponents expect that sites like YouTube can possibly remain open and legal? It’s impossible.

4 thoughts on “The Impossibility Of SOPA

  1. My inner cynic says that you seek a state where *all* websites are technically in violation, and then prosecute the ones that it is politically expedient to prosecute.

  2. So how do SOPA proponents expect that sites like YouTube can possibly remain open and legal?

    The don’t. They just want it to be legal, not open.

  3. They just haven’t thought it through thoroughly.

    Either that or they’re evil enough to actually want to eliminate all user-generated content so that their content is the ONLY content available anywhere ever. (It should be obvious, however, that such a scheme wouldn’t really work.)

    I think the former is the more likely situation. It is, in my experience, actually rather rare for anyone to fully think through all the implications of all of the ideas they promote. Call me a cynic if you will, but most people go off half-cocked most of the time. The basic idea, “we want to make it harder for people to illegally distribute copies of our copyrighted stuff”, is unremarkable so far as it goes. The proposed mechanism for doing so is wildly unrealistic, but since when has that ever stopped legislation?