Erik Martin, general manager of Reddit, one of the Internet's most popular community-driven media websites, said in a recent post that independent experts have told the site that if the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) passes Congress, the laws as written would be Reddit's death sentence.

Reddit, owned by publishing company Condé Nast, functions by allowing users to submit links to articles, videos and pictures, then promotes or demotes various content depending upon community reaction. Users are allowed to up- or down-vote submitted items, and the top links appear on the site's front page.

"If SOPA passes in anything like it's current form, it would almost certainly mean the end of reddit," Martin explained in a post on Monday. "It may not happen overnight, but we have a very small staff (~11, mostly engineers), and even dealing with DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] stuff is a big burden for us. SOPA would make running reddit near impossible. And we have access to great lawyers through our parent company. I can't imagine how smaller sites without those kind of resources could even attempt a go at it if SOPA passes."

In a follow-up, Martin explained that Reddit had consulted independent experts on the matter, and they concluded that provisions in the legislation that criminalize linking to improperly distributed copyrighted materials threatens the site's ability to function.

Even though a recent amendment to SOPA clarifies that its main targets are websites outside of the U.S., "It doesn't matter what they say the bill is for, the language is far too vague and far too easy for various parties to use it beyond the stated goals," Martin said. "Given our experience with DMCA, it's a safe assumption that various rights holders will use SOPA in such a way that US companies like reddit are impacted."

The DMCA is an existing legal framework that allows copyright-holders to request that websites remove their protected materials in the event that a user submits them.

Added, Reddit is more than just a social media forum: over the past years it has become something of a political force as well, notably helping to galvanize Comedy Central hosts Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart into their "Rally to Restore Sanity, " which attracted hundreds of thousands to Washington, D.C. It has also served as a spot for coordinating and promoting activism against SOPA, among other legislation Reddit members have organized to oppose.

Martin's warning is not unique. In a recent speech, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said the bills would essentially “criminalize linking and the fundamental structure of the Internet itself,” adding that SOPA’s goal is “reasonable,” but that its “mechanism is terrible.”

"What they’re essentially doing is whacking away at the [Domain Naming System] system and that’s a mistake," Schmidt explained. "It’s a bad way to go about solving the problem."

Lobbyists for the entertainment industry insist that the radical changes to the Internet's structure are necessary to prevent copyrighted material from being shared between sometimes hundreds of users at a time, which they claim costs movie studios billions of dollars every year.

Even though that claim is not borne out by the facts, it may not matter to Congress. Recent financial filings by members of the key House Judiciary Committee, which is considering a mark-up of the bill, revealed that they accepted four times more in campaign contributions from the TV, movie and music industries than they did from the tech firms currently fighting SOPA.

While SOPA did not clear the mark-up during a recent hearing, an initial report about talks being adjourned until 2012 proved premature after members rescheduled more SOPA talks for later this month. It was not immediately clear whether the next round of hearings would produce a vote to send the bill to the House at-large.

(H/T: Torrent Freak)

Front page image: Painting of Reddit alien by Flickr user ggarlic. Story image: Rapper Xzibit in a Reddit meme, illustration by Stephen C. Webster.