Moral Outrage
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Insights to the Stop Online Piracy Act as proposed by US Congress

Internet censorship bills in the Senate and House could change the Internet by making it possible for big entertainment companies, the Chamber of Commerce, and their lobbyists to make our government shut down websites they don’t like!

Read what Jonathan Zittrain of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Internet Society has to say:

According to its advocates, Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), HR 3261, 112th Cong. 2011 (SOPA) will strengthen copyright in the United States by establishing a number of public and private tools to hinder infringement by international “rogue” sites previously unreachable by US law.

The act’s most fervent critics state that SOPA has the potential to kill the internet as we know it, placing the fate of interoperability in the hands of technically unsophisticated judges. Only slightly less fervent critics note that this provision would align US federal internet policy with China and like-minded regimes. DNS blocking is one of the techniques that China uses to prevent access to dissident websites, and has serious technical ramifications.

1. Copyright enforcement against websites, foreign and domestic
SOPA would give tools to the US attorney general to combat “foreign infringing sites”. The definition of this term is unusual; a site with a domain name registered outside the US (eg through a non-US domain name registrar) seems to count as “foreign”, even if it’s run by an US company and hosted on US soil.

The law’s real force is focused domestically. Once a foreign infringing site has been made the subject of a court order, the attorney general may apply the court order, not only at the site, but at US companies that occupy the space between the infringing site and the end user’s browser – specifically, service providers, search engines, payment network providers, and advertising networks.

2. “Notorious foreign infringers” and US investors
The US IP Enforcement Coordinator, along with various agency heads, will identify “notorious foreign infringers” who are causing “significant harm to holders of IP rights in the US”, soliciting suggestions from the public and rights holders This information will be made into a report to Congress, which will examine and analyze various methods of combating IP rights violations, including and up to prohibiting such sites from raising capital in the United States.

3. Amendments to existing criminal copyright laws: Criminal penalties for streaming
Most notable among the many changes, SOPA calls for the criminalization of public performance copyright infringement. This provision is specifically targeted at digital streaming and provides criminal penalties for streaming copyrighted material with ten or more views and a retail value of $2,500. This sweeping and vague change could categorize millions of US computer users as criminals. Videos that teenage Justin Bieber posted of himself singing songs by his favorite artists do indeed appear to qualify as felonies under the act. This is a particular irony, since those videos launched Bieber’s career as a musician – exactly the people the act is intended to protect.

4. Protecting IP rights abroad
In what would potentially be a significant increase in the United States diplomatic corps and its activities, SOPA requires the secretaries of state and of commerce to ensure diplomatic missions or embassies have “adequate resources” to pursue “aggressive support of enforcement action against violations of intellectual property”.

SOPA’s vague language and undue granting of law-like powers to private parties without sufficient public protections make it worthy of a firm “no” vote. SOPA is both overly strong and overly broad; overly strong in the collection of remedies provided, and overly broad for the problems it is attempting to take on.


One Response to “Insights to the Stop Online Piracy Act as proposed by US Congress”

  1. Online and high-tech companies triggered an avalanche of Internet clicks to force Congress to shelve legislation that would curb online piracy. They outmaneuvered the entertainment industry and other old guard business interests, leaving them bitter and befuddled.

    According to organizers, at least 75,000 websites temporarily went dark that day, including the English-language online encyclopedia Wikipedia, joined by 25,000 blogs.

    As co-sponsors of the bills peeled away, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Friday postponed a vote that had been set for this Tuesday on moving to the legislation. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, also put off further work. “I have heard from the critics,” he said.

    Just weeks ago, the bills seemed headed toward quiet approval with bipartisan backing.

    “This does serve as a watershed moment,” said Jennifer Stromer-Galley, a communications professor at the State University of New York at Albany who studies how political groups use high technology. “Certain channels for communication that people routinely use have the power to get their users to become political activists on their behalf.”

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