Stop SOPA, Stop Censorship

If you were mad about Obamacare, if you were made about the Patriot Act, the DHS watch lists, the administration’s reach into your diets, then you’re already concerned about SOPA.

SOPA = Stop Online Piracy Act sounds benign, as almost all legislation does. The names of most bills are completely antithetical to what the bill would actually do. SOPA is no exception. You read the name. “Piracy is bad,” you think. “Respect for intellectual property is good,” you think. Both of these things are correct. SOPA survives on the assumption that this is all the bill entails. Piracy is a major problem, but SOPA, and its Senate companion PIPA (Protect IP Act), are the worst ways to go about solving it.

What is SOPA?

The bill would authorize the U.S. Department of Justice to seek court orders against websites outside U.S. jurisdiction accused of infringing on copyrights, or of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement.[4] After delivering a court order, the U.S. Attorney General could require US-directed Internet service providers, ad networks, and payment processors to suspend doing business with sites found to infringe on federal criminal intellectual property laws. The Attorney General could also bar search engines from displaying links to the sites.[13]

If the Justice Department or a copyright holder believed a site was directing users to pirated content, they would go to court. Depending on who’s complaining, different remedies would come into play: In some instances a judge could order an Internet service provider like Verizon to cut off access to a site. In others, a search engine like Google could be directed to delete links to an infringing site. The idea is to starve the offending sites of the web traffic that keeps them in business.

Inconclusively, too.

Google and First Amendment scholars like Harvard’s Lawrence Tribe argue that SOPA would squelch free speech by giving private parties power to effectively cripple sites that allegedly — but not conclusively — steal copyrighted content. The simple filing of a complaint, they say, would exert huge pressure on the Internet ecosystem to blacklist an accused site. They also say it would give the feds dangerous new powers to go after sites for political reasons.


Perhaps the most galling thing about SOPA in its original construction is that it let IP owners take these actions without a single court appearance or judicial sign-off. All it required was a single letter claiming a “good faith belief” that the target site has infringed on its content. Once Google or PayPal or whoever received the quarantine notice, they would have five days to either abide or to challenge the claim in court. Rights holders still have the power to request that kind of blockade, but in the most recent version of the bill the five day window has softened, and companies now would need the court’s permission.

The language in SOPA implies that it’s aimed squarely at foreign offenders; that’s why it focuses on cutting off sources of funding and traffic (generally US-based) rather than directly attacking a targeted site (which is outside of US legal jurisdiction) directly. But that’s just part of it.

…to the point of potentially creating an “Internet Blacklist”…

Here’s the other thing: Payment processors or content providers like Visa or YouTube don’t even need a letter shut off a site’s resources. The bill’s “vigilante” provision gives broad immunity to any provider who proactively shutters sites it considers to be infringers. Which means the MPAA just needs to publicize one list of infringing sites to get those sites blacklisted from the internet.

Potential for abuse is rampant. As Public Knowledge points out, Google could easily take it upon itself to delist every viral video site on the internet with a “good faith belief” that they’re hosting copyrighted material. Leaving YouTube as the only major video portal. Comcast (an ISP) owns NBC (a content provider). Think they might have an interest in shuttering some rival domains? Under SOPA, they can do it without even asking for permission.

Who is behind it?

These people. SOPA sponsors. The main sponsors are Democrat John Conyers and Republican Lamar Smith.

Check that link for their Twitter names and other contact info.

Many sites are going dark to highlight concern over SOPA and PIPA:

Wikipedia is not alone in its plans for a blackout. Reddit and theCheezburger network, whichincludes sites like The Daily What and Fail Blog, also plan to shut down to protest SOPA. The document service Scribd already made a billion pages vanish.Craigslist boasts a notice on its home page saying “Stop SOPA and PIPA.”

Feel free to use the information provided to contact an elected official and voice your opposition to SOPA and its companion PIPA. Ask for a better-crafted bill to combat online piracy.

Further reading:

The Stop Online Piracy Act Pits Hollywood Against Tech and the American People

Stopping Online Piracy – One Way or Another