So here we are, enjoying this lovely blog together. Isn’t it nice? Aren’t we enjoying each other’s company? Take a deep breath. That, my friend, is the sweet, sweet digital air of Internet freedom. And the gears are turning to put the kibosh on it. Perhaps you’ve heard of SOPA and PIPA, and perhaps you’re not significantly concerned over it. Let’s chat.

 

Legislation isn’t very high on my list of fun things to learn or talk about. It’s confusing, it’s frustrating, and it’s all so very theoretical “might happen” kind of stuff. But the fact is, Congress is thinking about breaking the Internet. You know, that boundless expanse of innovation and creativity that has become the heart and soul of the global community. The unrivaled platform of enterprise and ingenuity. The conduit by which we enrich our lives and connect to one another. That Internet.

 

If the web runs in your blood like it does mine, it’s time to learn why and how they’re planning on doing that. And it’s time to speak up. You’ve been drafted, son. Welcome to the Internet Defense Coalition. This is boot camp.

 

What you need are the facts. The Stop Online Piracy Act (before the House of Representatives) and the Protect IP Act (before the Senate) are two bills with the purpose of curtailing digital piracy, or the unauthorized download/access to copyrighted content (like movies, games, and music). While this is a fine goal, these bills are far too unspecific in their definitions and too sweeping in the powers they grant the Attorney General (and by extension, companies that provide content). The reality is that these bills as written will not accomplish their goals and will open a Pandora’s Box of potential abuse of power and censorship.

As you’re probably starting to realize, I will ramble for pages and pages on these issues if allowed. So for your sake, I’m not going to let myself. Instead, I’m going to bullet-point some main issues with the current bills.

 

  • The definition of a “foreign” site versus a “domestic” site is murky, and could be loosely interpreted either way based on hosting location, domain name registration, and top-level domain (.com, .org, .us, .ly)
  • Site classifications are too broad – the definitions for “search engine” could apply to anything from Google to reddit to blogs and wiki’s.
  • An infringing site need only “facilitate the commission of criminal violations.” What exactly does this “facilitating” entail? Good question…

 

Once an infringing site has been named, the Attorney General will force U.S. sites and services to:

  • Remove all links to the site from all pages and search results
  •  Stop all ad services related to the site
  • Cease any payment transactions
  • Block customer (YOU) access to the site through DNS filtering. Censor it.

 

To quote a fantastic reddit post about the issues, “SOPA and PIPA contain no provisions to actually remove copyrighted content, but rather focus on the censorship of links to entire domains.”

 

To put it another way; why block a YouTube video when you can just block YouTube? And why just block YouTube when you can demand that every link and search result leading to YouTube be removed one by one on every site that has ever linked to it?

The problems are big enough when the bill is applied as intended. But worse still, the potential for misuse and abuse is staggering. We’ve seen it with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act – scorned YouTube users have been known to maliciously file false DMCA notices against each other simply to cause legal headaches.

 

And legal headaches we shall have if these bills pass. Our court system will see countless SOPA and PIPA takedown notices and counter-notices, steeped in uncertain language and definitions that draw the affair out. Startups will have to consider the potential for legal issues before starting their company, and many will decide not to start that great website because they fear accidental “facilitation of criminal violation,” and can’t afford a laborious legal fight.

 

And the kicker, the worst part of it all, is that the bill will not work. Pirates are not stupid. Immoral and thieving, yes. But not stupid. On the contrary, the know the Internet better than anyone, and they certainly know it a lot better than these Congressmen. They will continue to steal and share movies and music, and they will find new ways to make money off it. And for our efforts, we will have neutered the growth and prosperity of the Internet and ourselves.

The time has come to speak out. Stop American Censorship is a great place to start – calling your representative is a great place to continue.

 

And I told you I wasn’t going to ramble. Sorry.

 

P.S. As if you needed an illustration that this is an important issue to us here at Rocket Pop, Chris wrote his own post about SOPA as I was writing mine. Great minds and all that. Check it.

 

“David, I need to read more about this harrowing issue!”

Fear not, noble reader. I am a veritable font of SOPA/PIPA links.

Google’s Statement

Mozilla’s Statement

Wikipedia’s Statement

Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Statement

reddit’s Statement

The Heritage Foundation’s Statement

Wired’s Statement

Razer’s Statement (awesome)

Adam Savage of MythBuster’s Statement

White Paper – The Impact of U.S. Internet Copyright Regulation on Early-Stage Investment

The MPAA’s defense of legislation