If you’ve browsed the Internet today, January 18, 2012, chances are you’ve seen quite a few website talking about protesting something called SOPA and PIPA. A few weeks ago, there was some backlash against GoDaddy, the ubiquitous domain registration company, because they didn’t fall in with a lot of other online companies in protest against this bill. They lost quite a few customers as a result, but it hardly made an impact on their business. Today, a more widespread protest was launched, calling for 24-hour blackouts of various websites like Wikipedia, Reddit, WordPress, Mozilla, and many others. Even Google is showing their support with a blacked-out logo on their homepage today, with a message asking to “Tell Congress: Please don’t censor the web!” The link takes you to a page where you can sign the online petition to protest this draconian resolution. I’ve already signed it, but I thought it might be a good idea to explain exactly what SOPA and PIPA are and why this legislation isn’t a good idea.
SOPA stands for the Stop Online Piracy Act (H.R.3261), a bill in the House of Representatives. PIPA is the Protect IP Act (S.968), a bill in the Senate. The intent of these bills is to “provide tools for law enforcement and copyright holders to protect their intellectual property rights.” Yes, piracy is wrong, and yes, there should be methods to protect intellectual property, but the problem with these bills is how they intend to exact this protection. These bills are aimed to protect the entertainment industry from the spread of online piracy, which is a noble effort, but the methods they intend to use are less than noble.
Vast majorities of the online websites that offer pirated content are located outside the US, and the bills want the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block the domain names where these sites can be found. They also want to sue US based websites that contain links to these sites, no matter how the content is presented. The bills also seek to cut off funds to infringing websites from any US based advertisers. While this might not seems like a bad way to go about things, the problem is that the bill wants the action against the supposedly infringing website before any judgment that the site is indeed engaging in any infringing conduct. With these bills, the mere accusation of impropriety would allow the site to be shutdown and sued. With the ambiguous wording in the bills, it would open the door for major social media sites and search engines to be subject to these measures. Sites like YouTube, SoundCloud, and others that allow people to freely express themselves could be misconstrued as sites that condone piracy to the wrong judge. You might think such a travesty of justice might not happen in the US, but when you consider the other countries that might follow suit with similar legislation, their standards might not be set so high. Not only would censorship run rampant, but also the entire standard of how we access the Internet with domain names, the DNS system, would be less stable and secure.
These bills, if passed, will introduce vast potential for censorship and abuse, all while making the Internet less safe and less reliable. What’s worse is that these measures wouldn’t stop online piracy, as any website can be accessed by a direct IP address, the string of octets you sometimes see. (192.168.10.58). Piracy will remain rampant, and the rest of the Internet will suffer as a result of these measures. The Senate will be voting on this bill on January 24th, so do what you can to learn more and act. Hopefully the collective voices will be heard and we can find a better way to combat online piracy.