SOPA/PIPA: Paint It Black

You may have noticed that there’s a lot of black around the Internet today.  A number of sites, including Wikipedia, Reddit, Google, and others have gone “dark” or have blacked out portions of their web sites.  If you look at the upper right-hand corner of this blog, you’ll see a black ribbon.  The reason for this?  Two very similar bills which are working their way through Congress right now.  The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House, and the Protect Internet Property Act (PIPA or Protect IP) in the Senate.  Why the fuss?  They are extremely dangerous the the Internet as we know it.

I’ve written in the past about piracy, and some of myths surrounding it.  This current legislation is written by media companies, supposedly to “combat piracy” and “save American jobs!”  Back in January, I said this:

The idea is that piracy “steals” from their revenue, and that there is a one to one equivalency between each “pirated copy” and a “purchased copy.”  The idea they have is that if someone can’t pirate it, they’ll buy it instead, which is not necessarily the case.

At the time I was talking about existing law, which enabled these sorts of incidents:

In other words, we now have the government seizing sites simply because an industry association told them it was “a problem” – without actually investigating to see if it was true – and ineptly not understanding the technology to begin with.

What do SOPA and PIPA do?  They put that on steroids.

PIPA would give the government new powers to block Americans’ access websites that corporations don’t like. The bill lets corporations and the US government censor entire websites and cut sites off from advertising, payments and donations.

This video explains it:

Why are so many technology giants lining up  against these bills?  Quite simply, it breaks the Internet.  By mandating removal of “offending” domains from Domain Name Service (DNS) servers and redirection to “notice sites,” based principally on someone’s say-so that it’s an offending site, the core of what DNS does for the Internet – end to end “single naming” protocol – gets “broken” here in the US.  It also damages security measures in existence and being developed.

Even worse, it doesn’t do anything to actually stop piracy.  It simply gives the media companies a way to censor the Internet for the average user.

Another dangerous provision in PIPA and SOPA that hasn’t received a lot of attention is the “vigilante” provision, which would grant broad immunity to all service providers if they overblock innocent users or block sites voluntarily with no judicial oversight at all. The standard for immunity is incredibly low and the potential for abuse is off the charts. Intermediaries only need to act “in good faith” and base their decision “on credible evidence” to receive immunity.

As we noted months ago, this provision would allow the MPAA and RIAA to create literal blacklists of sites they want censored. Intermediaries will find themselves under pressure to act to avoid court orders, creating a vehicle for corporations to censor sites—even those in the U.S.—without any legal oversight. And as Public Knowledge has pointed out, not only can this provision be used for bogus copyright claims that are protected by fair use, but large corporations can take advantage of it to stamp out emerging competitors and skirt anti-trust laws:

These bills are fatally flawed.  Although the White House has come out against them, that does not mean that they’re “dead” in the Senate or the House.  They’re still in the legislative process, and PIPA is scheduled for debate on the 24’th.  We need to (and I have) contact our legislators.  Don’t assume that just because your legislator is “a progressive” they’re not in favor of this bill.  Both of my “liberal” senators are sponsors of PIPA, and yes, I have let them know I’m not pleased with that.

These bills need to be stopped.  “Piracy” is a problem, yes, but these bills use a set of clubs where a scalpel is needed.  Contact your representative (click on the ribbon) and let them know that these bills are unacceptable.  Otherwise, the “black” you see today may end up with sites going black for real.

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17 Comments

Filed under Politics, Technology

17 responses to “SOPA/PIPA: Paint It Black

  1. Thank you for this most cogent explanation of the implications of these proposed laws. I’ve already made my feelings known to all our Reps and my Senators in AZ.

    I am totally opposed to censorship in any form but especially on the internet. I fear no exchange of ideas or content as I consider it a matter of personal choice what one reads or views. An open forum, and the free exchange of information are vital to a democratic society. That said I will share this:

    Back in the early ’90’s I saw an interview Charlie Rose had with the then CEO of Oracle. This man said “The internet is probably the greatest experiment in anarchy that the world has ever known.” I thought this was pretty cool which is why I remember it. I am not saying that I support anarchy in practical life just in ideas and exchange of information.

    I know that there are some really egregious sites out there and places I would not go without a hasmat suit but if they get censored or shut down then there is potential for any site to be censored or shut down. Illegal things like child porn should be dealt with on a case by case basis. If parents are concerned about what their children are doing on the net, then it is their responsibility to monitor and limit their own children’s access.

    Just my two pesos….

    • Any time you have the listing of technology companies coming out hard against bills like you see here, it means that there’s something very wrong with the bills. In this case, what you have are media companies attempting once more to “stop” something that they’ve failed to address in the past. The assumption that there’s a 1:1 correlation between “pirated” and “would have bought” is false. Why would someone pirate it? Because it’s free or much lower in cost. If you couldn’t get it? Then you’d likely do without.

      Here’s an example: I don’t buy many DVD’s, for the simple reason that there are very few movies I’d want to have my own copy of. So I simply rent them, or borrow them from my local library. If they weren’t available for rent or borrowing? I wouldn’t bother buying them anyway, unless they were in the $5 or less remainder bin.

      I use Baen Books a lot as an example, because it shows just how the media companies missed the boat. They’ve had e-books for a decade, and for years, they were the only publishing company to make money on their e-books. What did they do? They said “no digital rights management,” charged a very reasonable price, and said “if you want to send a copy to a friend, knock yourself out.” The result? They’re the single least pirated book publisher in existence, and they made money. Look at the success of iTunes. What did Apple do? They charged a reasonable price (99 cents) for a song, and made it easy to get them.

      Saying that “piracy is the reason” people aren’t buying CD’s, DVD’s, or going to the movies is not the case. Either they already own it, they only want a part of it, or the price is too high. In this case, what you’re seeing is a ham-fisted approach, and given past experience with laws they’ve gotten passed, I don’t see any reason to want these.

      • I might also add that one of the news sites that covers pirating publishes a list of the top ten most-pirated movies each year. What was pointed out was that most of them are movies that bombed at the box office and with critics. In other words, people are quite willing to pirate a sucky movie. If it was good, they’d buy it or rent it. 😉

        • Good points. I think sometimes things may get pirated because they aren’t available any other way. Example, some years ago a friend of my daughter’s managed to get her hands on a pirated set of some cartoon videos from the ’80’s. She would have happily bought them from the company that made them if they had offered them for sale but they weren’t available that way.

          I’m not condoning piracy but I can see how it happens and the way you explained it does not seem that there is a great deal of real money being lost. People will spend $$ on what they really want but will take for free or cheap something they feel hohum about.

          • Just wanted to add that i-tunes is great because you don’t have to buy a whole album just to get one or two songs you really like. And weren’t the record companies able to shut down sites like napster that were pirating music several years ago? Why do they need more regulation?

          • Good point. I used to belong to a fan board for a television show, and the members who were not in the US used to complain about being “out of it,” since they wouldn’t get to see the series until 6 to 12 months after it was shown here in the US. I recall a few of them managing to become “up to speed” on it, even though they were living in places where it was “delayed” – and one or two fans from places where it wasn’t supposed to air at all.

  2. Well said Norbrook and be assured this old grump has let both his Senators and his Congressman hear of my displeasure over any thoughts of passing such bad legislation. Lets hope they decide to listen to the people they represent and not the power of corporate cash.

    • Given the hash that was the DMCA, I had qualms about Congress doing anything legislatively with the Internet. What this bill is, is far worse than anything I’d imagined.

  3. Norbrook, thank you for writing this article and describing the nuts and bolts of what’s contained in the two bills that are pending. There seems to be a lot of confusion and misinformation about what it will actually do. I was under the impression that it had been shelved and was no longer in play. So glad that I’ve made it a habit to pass through on a regular basis to see what you’ve posted! This the first article that I’ve come across which provides a comprehensive analysis of the issue. Will send it to folks on my email list and others who are interested in learning more about it. Keep up the good work! 🙂

    • You’re welcome. It’s been a topic of discussion on the technology sites for quite a while, and every analysis I’ve seen from the technology and legal standpoint says it is an incredibly dangerous and foolish law, one that puts unprecedented power into the hands of various media companies.

      When I see people who’s expertise is unquestioned saying things like “this will break the Internet” I tend to take notice. 😉

  4. Gah! Now I’m going to have to add technology sites to my reading lists. .

    • I’ve been a member of Slashdot for a very long time, and they have category about “your rights online.” Otherwise, Ars Technica covers most of the news about copyright/internet political and legal issues.

  5. Thanks. It occurred to me AFTER I posted that I should have asked you for the names of some reputable tech sites. Will check out the ones you’ve mentioned in the near future…and will probably be right back here asking you to decipher what I’ve just read. Have a great day Norbrook!~

    • Not a problem. 🙂 Having been a “computer geek” for a very long time, I follow those sites mostly out of habit. However, if you’re looking for what’s going on in the political arena, particularly when it comes to intellectual property laws, copyrights, internet/technology regulations, and patents, it turns out that the tech sites are usually on top of them long before any of the media or political sites are. By the time you see them covering it, my reaction is often “Wow, took you guys long enough to catch on!” 😆

  6. FYI – “Google Inc. said today it collected more than 7 million signatures from the U.S. for its online petition to Congress during an Internet protest against anti- piracy legislation backed by Hollywood.”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/google-says-7-million-signed-petition-against-anti-piracy-bills/2012/01/19/gIQAJ2MiBQ_story.html?tid=pm_pop

    • Lots of Senators are jumping ship.:

      Members of the Senate are rushing for the exits in the wake of the Internet’s unprecedented protest of the Protect IP Act (PIPA). At least 13 members of the upper chamber announced their opposition on Wednesday. In a particularly severe blow for Hollywood, at least five of the newly-opposed Senators were previously co-sponsors of the Protect IP Act. (Update: since we ran this story, the tally is up to 19 Senators, of which seven are former co-sponsors. See below.

      Hmm.. yeah, lots of them are suddenly deciding that “Oops, voters are angry.” 😆