My Contribution to the War Effort
As some of you might be aware, there are major websites online who are speaking up in protest of two bills currently being considered in Congress, regarding internet content and the fight against piracy. These are the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011 (PROTECT IP). They are measures that are intended to stop piracy by forcing U.S. websites, search engines, advertisements, and payment networks (Paypal, etc.) to remove all associations and online business practices from any foreign site that has been deemed in violation of either Act. This also includes DNS blacklisting – the requirement of service providers to block customer access to the offending foreign site.
There is a well-written technical explanation of these ideas here, by Jason Harvey of Reddit.com. He summarizes the key points of the bills, what it would mean to the websites, and further explains the potential impact it could have on businesses, especially smaller, newer businesses and for search engine companies, due to the manual and aggressive nature of these acts.
Essentially speaking, it would be a complete censorship of any offending entity, at the domain level, potentially affecting legitimate users. Further, it is an act-first measure – the advertisers/payment networks/etc. must “forward the notification [of violation] and suspend their services to such an identified site unless the site’s owner, operator, or domain name registrant, upon receiving the forwarded notification, provides a counter notification explaining that it is not dedicated to engaging in specified violations.” (H.R. 3261 – SOPA – CRS Summary) It requires upon receipt of the notification that the site must defend itself in order to remain operational.
The most severe part of this, however, is that the notification specified comes from the “intellectual property right holder harmed by a U.S.-directed site dedicated to infringement, or a site promoted or used for infringement under certain circumstances.” (H.R. 3261 – SOPA – CRS Summary) As written, the suspension of service would begin when the notice was received from the injured party by the advertisers/payment networks/etc. company. It skips the due process of law that our legal system is supposed to be based upon.
And it appears to be about cooperation in exchange for “immunity from liability for service providers, payment network providers, Internet advertising services, advertisers, Internet search engines, domain name registries, or domain name registrars that take actions required by this Act or otherwise voluntarily block access to or end financial affiliation with such sites.” (H.R. 3261 – SOPA – CRS Summary)
In other words, “If you comply, you’re immune to being held responsible for abetting the illegal act. If you don’t, you’re partly responsible.”
And it’s a blanket censorship of the offending domain. Unlike the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) it does not force any action on the offending material, but instead attempts to cut off access to the offending material (potentially reasonable) and the rest of its surrounding domain (extremely unreasonable).
Given that there is evidence that the DMCA – the scalpel version of intellectual property protection on the internet – has been abused by parties for their own benefit, how can a sledgehammer like the SOPA and PROTECT IP not suffer the same problems, especially given that the scope of these bills is extremely wide, the language fairly unspecific, and the burden of proof seeming to be left to the accused? Further, the amount of resources that a company could potentially be forced to spend to remain in compliance with these acts could stifle the growth of the internet marketplace, as measures would need to be immediately available to respond to any potential ‘notification’. Identifying every instance of a website link on every page within a domain is an arduous process, and the costs could be devastating to businesses on the web.
And while advertisers and payment networks only have to react to notifications, it appears search engines would have to be proactive – working to ensure that a blacklisted site does not find another way to reinsert itself onto into the engine’s searches. This would force any search engine provider to staff for constant scrubbing of their potential search results in order to remain in compliance.
Worst part of all, it will not eliminate piracy out there. U.S. domain names would be able to slip by these acts. IP addresses potentially could slip through, as it appears the censorship is at the DNS level. It’s not likely to do what the legislators believe it will, while risking the livelihoods of internet businesses, as well as potentially punishing legitimate users of the internet.
Current gun control legislation doesn’t stop criminals from buying guns – it just makes it harder for law-abiding citizens to do so. Criminals will continue to obtain theirs illegally.
This feels like it’s along the same path.
Please contact your Congressional representatives. Sign petitions and e-petitions against these bills. Convince Congress to examine the legislation further, understand what the goal of the acts should be, and understand how it will affect the internet, and American civil rights online.
My 2 yen,
[Note: This article is probably not finished yet, but I am publishing it, even as a draft, to get it out there. I will continue to edit this until I feel it is complete.]
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