You may have noticed that Sharpologist “went dark” yesterday. It was done in support of the anti-SOPA/PIPA movement. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Protect IP (Intellectual Property) Act (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate are proposed legislation that would create an “Internet blacklist” and could stifle free expression, legitimate information flow, and innovation.
What is SOPA and PIPA?
At its heart, SOPA seeks to “… promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property, and for other purposes” by fighting online trafficking of counterfeit goods and copyrighted materials. PIPA is a bit narrower, with the bill intended to “prevent online threats to economic creativity and theft of intellectual property, and for other purposes.”
SOPA would allow the U.S. Department of Justice to seek court orders against websites — even websites outside U.S. jurisdiction — accused of infringing on copyrights, or of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. After delivering a court order, the U.S. Attorney General could require US-directed Internet service providers, ad networks, and payment processors to suspend doing business with sites found to infringe on federal criminal intellectual property laws.
PIPA is a re-write of the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), which failed to pass in 2010. “Infringement” means distribution of illegal copies, counterfeit goods, or anti-digital rights management technology; infringement exists if “facts or circumstances suggest a website is used primarily as a means for engaging in, enabling, or facilitating the activities described.” The bill says that it does not alter existing substantive trademark or copyright law.
So What Is So Bad About It?
On the surface, not so much. The intent is to protect “intellectual property” (IP) holders — writers, musicians, trademark-holders — from those who would “steal” IP for their own profit. There would also be protection from counterfeit drugs. Two of the major backers of the legislation are the RIAA and the MPAA. Both want to stop piracy of music and films, particularly from eastern Europe.
If someone took my shaving videos and sold them as their own, I would be pretty upset. For the same reason, I take great care that audio and video I use in my videos are either self-created, purchased stock, or explicitly in the Public Domain so I don’t violate someone else’s IP. The problem is, the proposed legislation takes the protection concept to an unnecessary extreme. It grants the government and corporate entities unprecedented power to interfere with the underlying technical structure of the Internet, censor web sites with differing opinions or competing products, and — perhaps most importantly to readers here — provide an excuse to shut down “social” forums.
Under the proposed legislation it would be possible for a large corporation (or individual) to claim a web forum published copyrighted or trademarked work. The forum’s service provider would be compelled to take down the entire forum until the work was removed or proven to not be copyrighted or trademarked. Gillette doesn’t like what B&B’s users are saying about their new 10-bladed razor? YANK. (OK, that might seem unlikely but I’ve seen just as much damage done between individuals.)
The bottom line is the proposed legislation protects the wrong people, ignores history and business innovation (how much music piracy have you seen since the price of an MP3 went down to $0.99?), and creates a chilling effect on legitimate information sharing and discussion.
Links For More Information
SOPA: Wikipedia (includes numerous links, both pro and con)
POPI: Wikipedia (includes numerous links, bot pro and con)
H.R. 3261: Stop Online Piracy Act full text
S. 968: Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011 full text