Of late you may have seen a lot of talk about something called SOPA or PIPA. More than likely you have heard or noticed that any of 7000 sites on the net have gone dark in protest over this issue. Those sites include Wikipedia among others; with Google, Facebook, and a multitude of other major search engines and service providers actively against the legislation. But you may not know what the fuss is all about.
SOPA stands for Stop Online Piracy Act which is being proposed in the House of Representatives – PIPA being its equivalent in the Senate. The purpose of the law is to stop copyright infringement. To the average person that means that the law is looking to stop sites from providing newly relesed movies, books, records, and other copyright protected material over the internet. On its face, it seems like a good idea.
The problem with the law is how it intends to do this. In the most simple explaination, if there is a site X that provides say a movie illegally the owner of the movie can go to a court and use SOPA. That would force the ISP to close that site, and possibly any site that links to that site. To do so, the ISP may have to search into the logs of EVERY person to ever view that site – which is a major privacy issue. It may also force the ISP to shut down other sites on its servers that have nothing to do with the website that is in violation. This effectively violates others freedom of speech and ability to conduct commerce.
But the law does not stop there.
It is quite possible that the law can reach further than just copyright pirates. Say you have a blog, even a facebook page. On that you have a photo of the Liberty Bell that is copyrighted. You did not pay for that image, sent to you by your mom who knows you like that, nor did you get permission to show the image. You have violated SOPA, and as such your blog or Facebook page could be shut down.
But since other people have viewed your page, and your mom sent it to you, and maybe a few even copied the image for their own computers (maybe as a background image for their PC) they all may have violated SOPA too. Their sites and Facebook pages can be shut down too.
You may notice that the words could and may pop up a lot in the description of the law. That is because the law is vague to a high degree on who it may also effect and how the law is to be used against other individuals. The law is so vague that a 71 page amendment was written to try to clarify what it can and cannot do. Which is still not clear. Which says nothing to the fact that Congress is not known for its ability to write huge multi-page laws that are without problem or well defined.
It is possible, though law makers deny this, that if you visit a site that has any degree of copyright violation – like the above example – that you may be affected by the law. It is possible that even in misquoting or linking to a copyright material you are affected.
Think of it like this. The sites of M V Consulting are copyrighted. If another site quotes our material without our permission SOPA says they must be shut down. Imagine that site was the Huffington Post. The whole Huffington Post would be shut down because they were taking an opposing position to what we took. Sites linking to the Huffington Post may also be shut down, especially if anything was EVER downloaded or uploaded (even in comments) to the Hufington Post. All of which can only be determined by checking every viewer of the Huffington Post, violating their privacy.
While all of that is being done, the actual copyright pirates can just open up a new website account and go back to business as usual within an hour of the site shutdown. The law does not in fact stop them, just delay them.
All of this without even addressing the ramifications of search engines having to respond to all of this as well. Which involves more privacy violations. It gets complicated quickly. The ability to abuse the law, in an effort to silence free speech that one group or another does not like, is huge.
This is a case of big government overregulating and overreaching its power. It is a good intention, but a poor plan with horrible design in execution.
As a source of copyrighted material, we want to have protection and laws in place to protect us. At the same time, we do not want our protection to be the means by which Free Speech is restricted.
We agree with Google, Wikipedia, Consumer Electronics Association, Lateef Mtima director of the Institute for Intellectual Property and Social Justice at Howard University School of Law, Center for Democracy and Technology, Edward J. Black president and CEO of the Computer & Communication Industry Association, John Palfrey of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Steve Crocker, Dan Kaminsky, Stewart Baker former first Assistant Secretary for Policy at the Department of Homeland Security and former General Counsel of the National Security Agency, Brookings Institution, House Cybersecurity Subcommittee chair Dan Lungren, Brooklyn Law School professor Jason Mazzone, Yahoo!, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, LinkedIn, eBay, Mozilla Corporation, Roblox, Reddit, ACLU, and Human Rights Watch in their notes of concern and disagreement on this law.
Congress wrote the Stimulus, and accidentally prevented hundreds of thousands from getting food stamps. The Health Care Reform was passed and created numerous problems that are still just being learned. We cite these 2 examples to note that for all the good intentions, massive laws with huge power imbued in the Government often creates problems that were overlooked, unforeseen, and almost intractable to correct. Once in place SOPA/PIPA will change the internet – which does not bode well for internet users.