Federal House Bill HR 3261 is pending Federal legislation that would create the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). SOPA is generating a lot of buzz because those for it and those against it are so radically opposed. As one might expect, those pushing for the adoption of SOPA include the biggies in the entertainment industry, such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). But those who oppose it include people and organizations with a deep understanding of how the Internet works – and of how the Internet could be broken – and innocent sites shut down – by SOPA as it currently is written.
The purported intent of the Stop Online Piracy Act is to help the Feds go after those engaged in piracy of movies and other copyrighted materials who are hiding out offshore – i.e. in other countries, where it is harder for the U.S. justice system to reach them and take them down.
And that is an admirable goal.
The problem is that the way it is worded, it allows copyright holders to demand that entire websites be blocked, rather than just infringing material removed from the website, and this implicates not just the site, but the DNS system, upon which much of the Internet relies. In addition, the bill allows for the blocking of payments to the website from payment systems (like Paypal), and the barring of online advertising on the site, meaning that a legitimate website could find its income shut off, as well as its website cut off from the Internet.
And not just a really bad site – but a good site which unknowingly hosts infringing material. YouTube, for example could, under the current wording, be taken down by a copyright holder for hosting a video that someone uploaded – where now YouTube is required to remove the infringing video upon request from the copyright holder (requests with which they regularly comply).
Now, to take down a website like that requires that Internet traffic no longer be routed to the site. This means making the routes to the site go away in the DNS system. And the bill also allows the Attorney General to bar search engines like Google from even displaying links to the site.
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So to be clear, the bill would allow not only the website to be shut down, but for search engines to be ordered what to (not) display, for advertising systems to be ordered with whom to not do business (the website that may have innocently been hosting a copyrighted material), and for payment systems to be ordered to whom to not make payments (ditto).
As with the current DMCA, the copyright holder starts the process by lodging a complaint. But unlike the DMCA, which requires the copyright older to lodge the complaint with the website hosting the infringing material (and then the website must remove it), under SOPA the copyright holder would lodge the complaints with the payment providers (i.e. Paypal) and the advertising networks (such as Google), who in turn will cut the website off unless the website can prove, within a specified period of time, that they are not violating copyright.
The incentive to the payment and advertising networks to cut off the targeted website is that if they take action, they won’t also be held liable.
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And this is websites operated by companies here, within U.S. borders, even though the purported thrust of SOPA is to assist with overseas, offshore issues.
No wonder the RIAA and MPAA are drooling all over themselves.
Says Gary Shapiro, of the Consumer Electronics Association, “The bill attempts a radical restructuring of the laws governing the Internet… It would undo the legal safe harbors that have allowed a world-leading Internet industry to flourish over the last decade. It would expose legitimate American businesses and innovators to broad and open-ended liability.”
As the Center for Democracy and Technology points out, HR 3261 “targets an entire website even if only a small portion hosts or links to some infringing content.”
Then, register your support for or opposition to SOPA with your Federal representatives.
No Paywall Here!
The Internet Patrol is and always has been free. We don't hide our articles behind a paywall, or restrict the number of articles you can read in a month if you don't give us money. That said, it does cost us money to run the site, so if something you read here was helpful or useful, won't you consider donating something to help keep the Internet Patrol free? Thank you!
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