The SOPA Saga

The SOPA (Stop Internet Privacy Act) / PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act) controversy is effectively uniting security pundits, technicans, web admins, and [finally] Silicon Valleyians all around the United States as the legislation potentially provides the government unprecedented opportunity to muck with the Internet. While it’s nice to see people in this industry band together for a cause, one has to worry if the RIAA and MPAA will one day get this passed into law under the smoke screen of fighting “rogue” foreign sites.

As the WSJ so eloquently put it, “Washington regulating the Internet is akin to a gorilla playing a Stradivarius“. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge are leading the fight against this legislation, sponsored “American Censorship Day” earlier this month, and created Here they postulate this if the legislation passes…

  • The government can order internet providers to block any site for its users’ infringing posts, using the same DNS-blocking methods as China or Iran.
  • It becomes a felony with a potential 5 year sentence to stream a copyrighted work that would cost more than $2,500 to license, even if you are an ordinary noncommercial user. Singing a pop song on Facebook could be a felony.
  • Thousands of sites that are legal under the DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] would face new legal threats. People trying to keep the internet more secure wouldn’t be able to rely on the integrity of the DNS system.

The site hosts a short video which effectively explains their concerns.

The EFF further interpreted the bills to empower Big Media such that if it thinks you have violated its IP rights or failed to stop one of your customers who has, it can send a notice claiming as much to the payment processors (Visa, Mastercard, Paypal etc.) and ad services you rely on.

Once they get it, they have 5 days to choke off your financial support. Of course, the payment processors and ad networks won’t be able to fine-tune their response so that only the allegedly infringing portion of your site is affected, which means your whole site will be under assault. And, it makes no difference that no judge has found you guilty of anything or that the DMCA safe harbors would shelter your conduct if the matter ever went to court. Indeed, services that have been specifically found legal, like Rapidshare, could be economically strangled via SOPA.

You can file a counter-notice, but you’ve only got 5 days to do it (good luck getting solid legal advice in time) and the payment processors and ad networks have no obligation to respect it in any event. That’s because there are vigilante provisions that grant them immunity for choking off a site if they have a “reasonable belief” that some portion of the site enables infringement.

At a minimum, this means that any service that hosts user generated content is going to be under enormous pressure to actively monitor and filter that content. That’s a huge burden, and worse for services that are just getting started – the YouTubes of tomorrow that are generating jobs today.

AOL, eBay, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Twitter, Yahoo and Zynga jointly published an open letter of protest to the Senate and House committees in a NY Times ad.

These companies, along with the EFF and a host of bloggers, agitated for constituents to contact their Congressman and were apparently very successful. Tumblr estimates that it alone facilitated over 87,000 calls. Somebody listed, as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, and Senators Rand Paul, Jerry Moran and Maria Cantwell all came out against the bills. Despite the positive developments, the Committee will reconvene at a future date, so the fight is not over.

Again put succinctly by the Journal…

Hollywood is playing to stereotype, hoping to suppress technology as it did in 1982, when the late industry lobbyist Jack Valenti said the invention of the VCR was to the “American film producer and the American public as the Boston Strangler was to the woman home alone.” Hollywood has since also fought DVD players, DVRs and MP3 players.

Hollywood’s effort to create a different story line for the future of the Web is a horror show. Lawmakers should walk out.