The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), under the guise of implementing much needed curbs against copyright infringement, is actually creating a legislative mechanism where the majority of Americans will be considered felons. Big Brother Sledgehammering SOPA’s outrageous Big Brother sledgehammering approach to copyright protection has been widely discussed, and previous Benchmark blogs can serve as an overview (see below). As the more radical aspects of this legislation place themselves in the public consciousness, the more ordinary Americans are finding them intolerable, inordinate or outright insane. Petitions to kill SOPA have gathered over 25,000 signatures in two days, YouTube’s SOPA-Cabana is nearing a million views, and the Business Software Alliance, which counts Adobe, Apple, Intel and Microsoft among its members, has opposed the Act as too extreme to contemplate. US = China, Iran, et al. At the core of the SOPA regulatory bludgeon is the proposal for the United States to engage in widespread DNS filtering, much as China, Iran, Burma, Kazakhstan and Syria do. The US State Department has actually developed and promoted more than a dozen tools that allow these repressed populations to circumvent the suppressive restrictions enacted by their governments, so it is an irony that is not lost on many that now the United States government itself is in the position of implementing exactly the same barriers to the free exchange of online information across the country’s borders. Circumventions Are Already Available The MPAA has promoted a paper by Daniel Castro, a Senior Analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation entitled PIPA/SOPA: Responding to Critics and Finding a Path Forward. In the thesis, Castro maintains that the number of internet users who apply circumvention tools in countries where DNS firewalls are in place is less than 3 percent, so a similar level of skirting can be expected in the US as well. This prospect may not be fully accurate, as there are already widely available browser add-ons such as DeSopa and Pirate Bay Dancing that blast through the filters by either routing users through proxies or accessing websites through their IP number addresses alone. Immolation of Dissenting Opinions During two days of contentious House debate over the bill Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-California) remarked “once the government has the taste of power, the temptation to exert ever greater control over the Internet… will be even greater.” The danger of DNS filtering for strictly copyright infringement could easily be extended to issues that are not as clearcut: a creeping institutional censorship that could immolate the dissenting opinions traditionally acknowledged as the greatest strength of vivacious democracies. The last eleven years have seen a curtailment of personal liberties to the extent that the Founding Fathers are likely spinning in their graves. Thomas Jefferson stated that “the policy of the American government is to leave their citizens free, neither restraining nor aiding them in their pursuits” and “what country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?” Driven by the belated need to establish online copyright respect, SOPA’s legislative supporters are violating the most basic precepts that the nation is based upon. Jefferson “swore on the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” How many current legislators are equally committed to that true liberty? Benchmark Email Blogs on SOPA Follow Benchmark Email’s coverage of SOPA with these previous blog entries: New Congressional Anti-Piracy Laws on the Way Why SOPA Will Fail What the Protect IP Act Means for Internet Users & Streamers The Internet Industry Opposes SOPA: Is It Too Late?
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is House Bill number 3261 and is unquestionably one of the most misguided and potentially dangerous pieces of internet legislation ever proposed by the US Congress. SOPA’s aims are to force ISPs, search engines, payment processors and ad networks to block access to any website deemed by any judge to be a “rogue.” Unfortunately, many judges have shown an appalling ignorance of the most basic functions of the internet. If Supreme Court Justice John Roberts can ask “what is the difference between email and a pager?” then the legislation is up for overwhelming misinterpretation and heavy-handed enforcement by a gaggle of lower judges in any given district in America. The leading hardware and software corporations have finally taken a stand against SOPA, but their prolonged dawdling may have rendered their opposition futile. Unintended Consequences The Business Software Alliance (BSA), which counts among its heavyweight members companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Intel and Adobe, recently issued a statement opposing SOPA in its current form, stating that it “needs work” before it should be implemented as the law of the land. Warning that the legislation “as it now stands… could sweep in more than just truly egregious actors,” the BSA went on to state that “the bill would have to balance key innovation, privacy and security considerations with the need to thwart the threat rogue websites pose,” as current “SOPA provisions might have unintended consequences.” The tone adopted by the BSA was in stark contrast to statements of just a week earlier when the Alliance offered support to the Act. The Current Copyright-Violating Web Is Untenable The vast majority of sober and level-headed internet observers have to admit that the current situation where movies, TV shows, music albums and other copyrighted content becomes freely available within nanoseconds of their release is untenable. Entertainment content is produced at high expense with an expectation that the venture will produce a profit, and it is simply not feasible to spend $100 million-plus on a media production just to give it away for free. However, the BSA is finally realizing that the impact of SOPA is too draconian to contemplate. Croon Elvis & Commit a Felony Let’s assume in a SOPA universe that your garage band creates a YouTube video where you’re playing an Elvis, Beatles or Lady Gaga tune. Congratulations, you have just committed a felony. We’re not discussing a slap-on-the-hand simple fine situation but a crime comparable to arson, robbery, or burglary. This is not for playing a copyrighted video clip from the original artist, but just strumming out their chords on your $50 guitar while crooning the lyrics! The liability is not limited to criminal charges against your band alone, as SOPA levies responsibility against the carrier of the copyright-infringing content, so YouTube can legitimately be blocked from all US access. Given that if all the copyright infringing videos on YouTube were removed there might be nothing left there but “awwww” videos of kittens, puppies and babies, it is clear that the internet industry needs to take a strong stance against this clear and present danger. Impossible Copyright Determinations SOPA’s limits are unknown and at least at this juncture, effectively unknowable. Is the use of a trademark word a SOPA violation? Would posting the statement “Let every Champion Pledge at this Time to be United in Joy and Cheer” be seen as violating six trademarks? Would every website that allows public posting be responsible for policing every element to ensure copyright adherence prior to making the content public? Although it’s obvious that the post of a full rip of the Puss In Boots movie is a copyright violation, how can anyone determine whether the soft music playing in the background of a video clip is under the jurisdiction of the RIAA or a tune the video creator composed and played? SOPA attempts to perform microsurgery with a sledgehammer, and the BSA’s previous support was nothing short of baffling. It seems that the internet industry has finally woken up to the threat posed by this Act… but it might be too little too late.
What’s up with the Protect IP Act? Or is it the E-PARASITE Act? No, it’s the Stop Online Piracy Act now, isn’t it? Whatever they’re calling it these days, the controversial bill the government is floating around has the type of implications that could literally bring the internet to a standstill should it officially become law. The Fight against Piracy...and Everything Else You don’t have to be a member of the House or Senate to know that piracy has become a huge problem in the digital age. These days, it is incredibly easy to obtain anything from music and movies to eBooks and full software programs by simply downloading it online. Unfortunately, this convenient process is one that often infringes on the copyrights of the actual content creators and owners. The internet makes it extremely difficult to track down and prosecute the parties doing all the infringing, and this is the very reason lawmakers in Washington have decided to step in. The House of Representatives introduced the Protect IP Act as a legislation that would protect the creativity, innovation and ownership of intellectual property in the U.S. In simple terms, it aims to stop piracy and copyright infringement in their tracks by giving more power to the parties who own the rights. The bill looks to have good, genuine intentions on the surface, but it’s the substance that has members of the internet community questioning if the government has finally taken the role of Big Brother too far. According to the lawmakers behind the proposal, the Protect IP Act will help weed out all the entities that enable piracy from monetary transaction to download. However, the vague language of the act and its seemingly broad application could have an impact that goes beyond the supposed intentions. The proposed law would potentially give the content owner the ability to block a website’s search engine rankings, advertising campaigns and online transactions, essentially shutting them down by accusing them of infringement. Accused parties would have to file a “counter notification” to have their services restored and then lawyer up for what would presumably be a costly legal battle. Under the Protect IP Act, parties such as search engines, advertising firms and payment processors would be required to cut off all ties with the website accused of infringing on the rights of the content owner. This means that any site owner alleged to have committed such a crime could end up blacklisted by companies they have been doing business with for years. There is a lot of confusion regarding exactly who could be affected by the bill, but according to the collective understanding of many pundits, everyone from the everyday Facebook user to Facebook itself could be vulnerable to its implications. Streamers under Fire The Protect IP Act is not the only proposed federal legislation stirring up controversy in the internet community. Back in May, members of the Senate introduced Bill S.978, aka the Commercial Felony Streaming Act. This particular bill is an amendment to an existing law that, if passed, would make streaming copyrighted content without authorization a felony, a crime that is currently a misdemeanor. The concern over this proposed law is that it could affect users who stream or post videos of music, TV shows, video games and other copyrighted material on sites like YouTube. Of course the bill does not address this aspect directly, and thus confusion and controversy have been the result. Nothing is final, but it is believed that some version of both of these bills will end up passing. Only time will tell if the concerns of the internet community were warranted or overblown.
It was a good run. For almost two decades anyone with an internet connection could blithely view any first run movie, listen to any album, buy any prescription medication, gamble themselves into penury or learn how to make deadly ricin with the ease of point and click. An entire generation has been raised in the assurance that they can get anything they want on their monitors for free, but now that’s all going to come to a screeching halt thanks to the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act and the Senate’s Protect IP Act. Or at least that’s the theory. And it’s a theory that is so fundamentally flawed that it begs the question of whether the legislators who drafted it understood even the most primary basics of the information infrastructure they seek to “control.” Just Type in the IP The details of this legislation are arcane, but the essence is that foreign sites that offer content that allegedly is in violation of US intellectual property law can be blocked from the access of American internet users. Technically the resolution of the domain name is what would be blocked, so the site would still be accessible via its IP. Therefore, instead of being able to watch Captain America by typing in www.allthepiratedmoviesyouwanttowatch.com, you could still do so by typing 172.16.254.1. If that overwhelming obstacle is not enough by itself to banish piracy forever from American shores, the creation of a massive national firewall will certainly stop these regrettable practices… right? The 1,874 Mile Straight Line From the tip of Lake Superior to the Pacific Ocean there is a straight 1,874 mile-long line which doesn’t even have as much as a chain link fence along most of its length. This permeable border is so ethereal that there are airports with runways that cross it, while on the other side of the continent there are private homes that lie half in Quebec and the other half in New England. Technically the inhabitants of these homes should show their passports when going from their kitchen to their bathroom. Given the imaginary status of this “line,” the reality of sealing off American wireless space from its northern (and southern) neighbors is simply not feasible. A Wireless LAN Stretching 200 Feet The Canadian Department of Justice states it outright: “Several Canadian wireless companies and satellite communications system operators have service areas that overlap the Canadian/US border. This can mean that the subject of a Canadian authorization may be physically located in Detroit, although the interception itself is being carried out on a wireless switch located in Windsor.” How long will it be until some bright entrepreneur sets up an ISP located on Princess Street in Queenston, Ontario, or Avenida Francesco I. Madero in Mexicali, Mexico with a wireless LAN that only needs to reach over a couple of hundred feet? Whoops, there goes the national firewall. $5 Mailbox = Citizenship So what is a foreign or domestic website anyway? Anyone in any country can pay a few bucks a month to a UPS Store and have a legitimate US address that they can use to register their domain name. The opposite is also true. The vast majority of the world’s nations have companies offering simple, cheap ways to obtain a legitimate mailing address, and no one needs to know that it’s a $5 a month box in a store. Throw in the use of national internet proxies and any American can appear to be a Brazilian, Kenyan or Australian online… and vice versa. What pirate consumers do not seem to understand is that the very act of freely accessing the various media they love so much handicaps the producers of that content by minimizing their budgets, and what the legislators seem unable to comprehend is that Pandora’s Box cannot be sealed back up once it’s opened. Copyright violation and the other ills of the internet are serious issues that merit equally serious responses, not the current House and Senate versions of this legislation - which are tantamount to taking a knife to a bazooka fight.