I tend to avoid addressing politics here or on my Twitter stream, but I think this topic is beyond politics and more about a fundamental lack of understanding of the internet as a whole.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA or H.R. 3261 in the U.S. House of Representatives) and its Senate analogue PIPA (PROTECT IP Act) have been drawing the ire of the internet community for quite a while now. Online efforts to sink the laws have been targeted primarily at SOPA. However, somehow SOPA has been mostly ignored by traditional media outlets, possibly owing to their ownership.
The bill is intended to stop both counterfeit drugs from being sold online and to prevent copyright infringement. The methods described in the bill to accomplish these goals have been repeatedly derided by nearly everybody who has a hand in the internet or a concern over censorship.
What doesn't help is that the bill's sponsor, Lamar Smith, seems to be completely disconnected from the internet as evidenced by Smith's statements on January 2:
The criticism of this bill is completely hypothetical; none of it is based in reality. Not one of the critics was able to point to any language in the bill that would in any way harm the Internet. Their accusations are simply not supported by any facts.
It's a vocal minority. Because they're strident doesn't mean they're either legitimate or large in number. One, they need to read the language. Show me the language. There's nothing they can point to that does what they say it does do. I think their fears are unfounded.
vocal minority he cites was small enough to not only push GoDaddy to distance itself from the bill, but to ultimately release a statement saying GoDaddy officially opposes SOPA. Reddit helped motivate Congressman Paul Ryan to clarify his stance on SOPA, and Ryan today released a statement opposing SOPA:
I believe it creates the precedent and possibility for undue regulation, censorship and legal abuse.
Both Al Gore, the self-professed inventor of the internet, and Tim Berners-Lee, the guy who is credited with inventing the web, have each come out against SOPA and PIPA. In November, Google, Facebook, Mozilla, Zynga, eBay, Twitter, Yahoo, LinkedIn, and AOL all got together for a full page ad in the New York Times to oppose PIPA and SOPA the same day as a SOPA hearing with witnesses slanted in favor of the bill.
Lamar Smith also says there are no "legitimate" concerns that this would harm the internet, nor are there any facts to back them up. Smith needs to only look at the extensive lists compiled across the web on how SOPA is both a technical disaster and an open door for censorship:
- Threat to online freedom of speech;
- Negative impact on websites that host user content;
- Weakening of "safe harbor" protections for websites;
- General threat to web-related businesses;
- Threat to users uploading content;
- Threat to internal networks;
- Threat to open source software;
- Ineffectual against piracy;
- Deep-packet inspection and invasion of privacy;
- Negative impact on DNS, DNSSEC and Internet security;
- Internet security
- Lack of transparency in enforcement.
Smith also asks for people to point to language in the bill that justifies these concerns. Since the bill is available online, it seems pretty straightforward — except the bill is so vague in parts that it's easier to just point out those sections that lack clarity and leave the door open to lawsuits and poor interpretation by technically uneducated judges.
I am not a trained legal professional, but these passages in particular cause me concern given how vaguely they are worded and how easily they can be misinterpreted.
Sec. 102 c.2.A
A service provider shall take technically feasible and reasonable measures designed to prevent access by its subscribers located within the United States to the foreign infringing site.
Sec. 102 c.2.B
A provider of an Internet search engine shall take technically feasible and reasonable measures, as expeditiously as possible, but in any case within 5 days after being served with a copy of the order, or within such time as the court may order, designed to prevent the foreign infringing site that is subject to the order, or a portion of such site specified in the order, from being served as a direct hypertext link.
Sec. 102 c.4.A
Attorney General may bring an action for injunctive relief
Sec. 102 c.4.A.i
against any entity served under paragraph (1) that knowingly and willfully fails to comply with the requirements of this subsection to compel such entity to comply with such requirements; or
Sec. 102 c.4.A.ii
against any entity that knowingly and willfully provides or offers to provide a product or service designed or marketed for the circumvention or bypassing of measures described in paragraph (2) [...]
Sec. 107 b
The Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator shall, not later than 6 months after the date of the enactment of this Act, submit to the Committees on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives and the Senate a report that includes the folowing:
Sec. 107 b.4
An analysis of the adequacy of relying upon foreign governments to pursue legal action against notorious foreign infringers.
Now spend a few minutes familiarizing yourself with who co-sponsors SOPA then compare it to the top 20 congressman (ranked by dollar amount) who receive money from lobbying groups in the TV, movies and music sectors.
While you're looking, spend some time to review the list of co-sponsors for PIPA and compare it to the top 20 senators (ranked by dollar amount) who receive money from lobbying groups in the TV, movies and music sectors. Local readers will see Senator Kirsten Gillibrand tops the list.
For more information:
- A one page SOPA reference (in PDF form) from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
- 110 law professors write an open letter to Congress (also in PDF) explaining why SOPA is a bad idea.
Links to things you can do: