Law in the Internet Society

SOPA: a job and liberty killing regulation

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), also known as H.R. 3261, is a bill that was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on October 26, 2011. This bill, under the pretence of fighting against copyright, is in fact a way to increase censorship. The bill sets up a system to punish sites allegedly “dedicated to the theft of US property.” If SOPA is passed, it would fundamentally change the way the Internet works and destroy millions of blogs, publishers, e-commerce and small businesses - all of them having used an image or other material without authorization from the copyright holders. Indeed, if an IP rights holder (vaguely defined – this could be Justin Bieber worried about his publicity rights) thinks you meet the criteria of a copyright infringement and is in some way harmed, he/she can send a notice to the payment processors (Visa, Mastercard, Paypal etc.) and advertising services (Google, Yahoo, etc.) you rely upon. Once received, they have 5 days to choke off your financial support. Of course, the payment processors and advertising networks won’t be able to fine tune their response so that only the alleged infringing portion of your site is affected, thus, your whole site will be under assault. Therefore, it can be the internet equivalent of firebombing an entire city block to smoke out one guy running a counterfeit handbag operation.

With this bill, the government and corporations could block any sites, foreign or domestic, just for infringing links. Sites like YouTube? , Twitter and Facebook would have to censor users or get shut down since they become liable for everything users post. Unsuspecting users could go to jail for up to 5 years for posting any copyrighted work, even just singing a pop song. The government is in control of how you are able to share content online. Email providers like Gmail could be forced to censor links within your emails, links on social networks, and other sites may be monitored and possibly censored. In addition, Alternate DNS and TOR websites would be blocked too. Search engines will have to filter to expurgate all illegal websites such as the Pirate Bay. This bill does direct harm to the free internet and a shameful attempt of lobbyists to destroy internet neutrality.

In addition, this law gives the opportunity for powerful corporations to censor any content they deem to be in conflict with their business models and their interests. This law, if it were to be passed, would harm the entire network neutrality and any free competition and free enterprise, meaning that innovation would disappear forever. It would end in a disaster scenario that would create a giant minitel 3617 containing only content accessible to the highest bidder and those able to afford visibility.

This bill has been enacted by people who don’t know anything about the internet. Indeed, Congress has two professional athletes, a driving school instructor, and three carpenters. US have more wine producers among its elected officials than engineers (you can easily imagine how many of them are computing engineers). The only thing they know about the internet is spending time on twitter when they get bored. But this is not enough to create a law. Politics are getting influenced by lobbyists, some of them moreover have important job in the Department of Justice. But it is not possible to act as if nothing is happening. Politics don’t have a scalpel in their hands, it is more like a flame-thrower. The problem is that we’re dealing with legislation that will completely change the face of the internet and free speech for years to come. Yet here we are, still at the mercy of underachieving Congressional know-nothings that have more in common with the slacker students sitting in the back of math class than elected representatives. We can easily consider that crafting legislation affecting the internet without consulting experts is like building a bridge without asking any engineers. It is completely incredible.

All projects of censorship hamper communication beyond the category they were intended to restrict, but these laws are particularly egregious in this regard because they cause the disappearance of whole areas of the Web, not just pages or illegal files. Worse, an incredible number of sites which are useful and perfectly law-abiding can be blacklisted by the proposals. In fact, it seems that this has already begun to occur following recent foreclosure proceedings for domain names.

Undoubtedly, a law like this will mistakenly incriminate normal network users and ISP’s, and cause needless security issues.

This whole idea is against the founding principle of the internet which is free research and communication on any subject. By definition the world wide web is freedom of surfing and freedom of exchanging ideas including video content to keep people in the whole world connected. The internet is a way of learning, including video tools such as YouTube? . The basic principle of the Internet or the web is to give people freedom of speech, and communication which should be shared by all nations. This bill threatens the future of the Internet, stifles innovative forms of music such as mashups and songs that use sampled music.

This law would also have a worldwide impact. US congress argues that this law would extend to the entire world, violating the fact each country has its own regulations. Even if some can argue that this law will be passed by the People, and therefore acceptable, the US Congress is only representing Americans, even though we would all be subjected to this law even if living on the other side of the world. This is unacceptable! It would create a system close to China. A world where you don’t know anymore what freedom of speech means and where the only information you can have access to is the information selected by industry lobbyists. Do we really want to live in a world like that? I don’t think so!

-- By MarciaGivord - 28 Dec 2011

As I explained in class, SOPA was never anything, and isn't anything now. The important fact, as I made clear, wasn't the content of the bill, but the nature of the bribery surrounding it. The large-scale arrival of Google money in the political system, as I predicted, made the difference. Not that SOPA itself was ever relevant, regardless, because—as I also explained—the House version of the legislation didn't matter whatever it was: the only two entities that mattered were what Hollywood drafted and what the Senate would pass. I described the game between Senator Leahy and ex-Senator Dodd of the MPAA, and explained how things would happen, and they happened as I said they would.

Meantime, you've written an essay that repeats a few of the leading talking points against SOPA, thus combining the European delusion that legislation is all-important with the intellectual sophistication of US newspaper Op-Eds written by flacks. You've laboriously explained that a bill that was never going anywhere was a bad idea, without explaining why it had to die or what will happen the next time Hollywood brings it back, all of which is plain as a pikestaff to any working lawyer in the area worth her salt, and none of which makes the vaguest approach to having the tail of its coat appear in the picture you have drawn.

Professionally, you want to be a person at the current edge: clients do not pay lawyers for a pretty-good last year's understanding of the client's context. You want to be able to write, quickly and clearly, about what's really going on and what to do about it. If what the client needs is someone who can summarize a bill, let alone summarize the logic of newspaper essays, it should be someone other than you who is paid a whole lot less.

Revising this essay gives you a chance to practice your practice. SOPA having now been defeated, you don't have to spend any time telling us about its provisions and why it wouldn't have been a good idea. You can instead explain for your readers what it means that SOPA was defeated and what's going to happen next.

You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable. To restrict access to your paper simply delete the "#" character on the next two lines:

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r3 - 04 Sep 2012 - 22:02:24 - IanSullivan
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