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.