[It's taken me a while t' get me thoughts in order regardin' this issue, especially since so many others have already spoken about it more eloquently than I e'er could. But this is such an important topic, and it has been weighin' on me mind so heavily as o' late, that I just couldn't wait any longer - I had t' put me thoughts down in words.]
SOPA (th' Stop Online Piracy Act; H.R. 3261) is a bill before th' United States House o' Representatives. In brief, it allows both th' Department o' Justice and copyright holders t' request court orders against websites that are allegedly distributin' copyrighted material without permission, or are just enablin' others t' do so. These court orders can require payment processors (e.g., PayPal, Visa, MasterCard, etc.) t' freeze accounts, force search engines t' de-list th' accused website, and require ISPs t' block th' site’s DNS records.
(Strangely enough, th' act also contains some other similar provisions fer websites sellin' discount prescription drugs and surplus military hardware, o' all thin's.)
The freezin' o' accounts is bad enough, but th' blockin' o' DNS records is perhaps th' most frightenin' aspect o' this bill, as this amounts t' no less than outright censorship o' th' Internet, similar t' that seen in places like China and Iran.
I have a number o' concerns with this bill, but I will just stick t' th' top few, th' ones I think are th' most egregious.
Lack o' Due Process
Perhaps th' most offensive aspect o' this bill is its removal o' th' protection o' due process fer th' accused. The 5th Amendment t' th' U.S. Constitution guarantees th' right t' due process, but this bill almost completely denies that right t' those accused under its terms.
The right t' due process is one o' those really important rights fer any free society – right up there with freedom o' speech, freedom o' religion, and th' right t' a trial by jury.
SOPA circumvents due process by makin' it so that th' government (on th' say-so o' a copyright holder) has th' right t' take away somethin' o' yours (yer website, and/or yer money) without givin' ye a chance t' challenge this. And swab the deck! The takedown actions authorized under SOPA are effective immediately, and there is little t' no burden o' proof on those askin' fer th' takedown, and even less chance o' retribution on those askin' fer th' takedown should their claims later be proven false.
Immediate action can be understandable in some circumstances (child kidnappin', serial killers, etc.), but fer somethin' as mundane as copyright infringement, it seems a bit excessive.
Which brin's me t' me next point…
The text o' SOPA is purposefully very, very, very broadly written. This, I think, stems from a desire t' sort o' “cover yer bases,” by tryin' t' be as broad as possible so there are no loopholes.
Unfortunately, in this case th' broad language simply serves t' make this bill applicable t' almost everythin', in th' same way that a law that said “any type o' death threat, no matter what counts as attempted murder” is applicable t' almost anythin'. If our actual criminal statues were worded this broadly, every single one o' us would be in jail by now, because there is not a one o' us who hasn’t at some point in our lives done somethin' that could be construed as a death threat – from angry words durin' an argument t' givin' a rude gesture while sailin'.
This sort o' broad, sweepin' language doesn’t work fer criminal law, and it doesn’t work fer SOPA either.
SOPA claims t' be aimed at stoppin' large-scale fer-profit copyright infringement, but th' actual text means th' law would apply t' any type o' copyright infringement, no matter how small or insignificant.
The Internet is a global network. But th' people who wrote SOPA seem t' think that th' only part o' th' Internet that counts is th' part that’s in th' United States.
This is so stupidly untrue as t' not require further elaboration.
SOPA would allow blockin' o' websites fer copyright infringement… but it claims t' be aimed at “foreign” websites. And th' only blockin' it authorizes is t' block those sites from bein' seen by… Americans. So, it doesn’t actually “block” th' sites, it just blocks them from bein' seen in America. Yaaarrrrr, I'll warrant ye! Anyone in th' rest o' th' world can keep on visitin' th' site, and download unauthorized copyrighted material t' their hearts content.
Your guess as t' how, exactly, this is supposed t' “stop online piracy” is as good as mine.
The website blockin' authorized by SOPA is done at th' DNS level – meanin' that it simply stops DNS servers (only in th' U.S., as I mentioned above) from resolvin' th' site’s domain name t' its numerical IP address.
Which means that if th' site www.example.com were bein' blocked, but ye knew it’s IP address (e.g., 192.168.55.34), ye could just type in th' numerical address instead, and it would work just fine.
This is th' most obvious example as t' why SOPA would be ultimately ineffective at its stated purpose – that is, stoppin' “online piracy.”
This is a bit like coverin' yer eyes while witnessin' a crime, and sayin' “I can’t see it, so it’s not happenin'.”
Some o' th' other aspects o' th' act – fer example, forcin' payment gateways (such as PayPal or Visa or MasterCard, etc.), t' freeze th' accounts o' th' website’s owners – might be somewhat effective, but again, remember that this only affects payment gateways within th' United States. And swab the deck! If a “foreign” website is distributin' unauthorized copyrighted material fer profit, chances are they are goin' t' use a “foreign” payment gateway as well. So, once again, SOPA achieves nothin' towards its stated goal.
It Is Censorship
Obviously, SOPA were bein' not designed as censorship per se, but due t' th' way it is structured, it would effectively be censorship.
Remember, SOPA allows someone t' claim ye are violatin' their copyright, and have yer site completely blocked.
This is true even if it turns out that ye were not violatin' their copyright, or that yer use o' copyrighted material falls under “fair use.”
Now, imagine that ye are a big website (like, say, YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, or Twitter) – are ye goin' t' want t' run th' risk o' havin' yer site suddenly blocked because one o' yer users uploaded somethin' that is copyrighted (even if it is ultimately found t' be fair use)? Of course not!
Even though sites like Facebook and YouTube are probably big enough t' get unblocked fairly quickly, th' simple threat o' bein' blocked at a moments notice is enough t' force them – out o' simple self-preservation – t' severely censor their users. They just can’t take th' risk – th' potential harm t' them (havin' their site blocked) is too great t' even risk lettin' users upload anythin' that might, possibly, maybe, be considered copyright infringement.
Out o' Proportion
We’ve seen how SOPA is carryin' a pretty big stick when it comes t' enforcement. And swab the deck! But let’s think fer a moment about what it is meant t' be stoppin', exactly:
Not “piracy,” not “theft o' intellectual property,” but simple infringement o' copyright.
Copyright, remember, is not a “fundamental” or “universal” right. It is a (time-limited) government granted monopoly on thin's ye create, t' encourage people t' create thin's, knowin' that others can’t just take what ye’ve done fer free and make money from it. It’s an incentive t' create – nothin' more, and nothin' less.
Now consider that SOPA would make copyright infringement a felony.
Think about that fer a moment – this law would make illegally copyin' someone’s work be on th' same criminal level as murder and kidnappin'.
The other aspects o' SOPA – blockin' websites and freezin' accounts – are also wildly out o' proportion with th' actual harm done.
Imagine if other laws worked th' same way – fer example, if a particular neighborhood were bein' known t' have a lot o' shoplifters stealin', say, packs o' gum. The whole neighborhood could find itself suddenly and without warnin' shut down – no power, no electricity, all seas blocked off and th' whole neighborhood under martial law. Shiver me timbers! And all this would happen on th' say-so o' th' gum manufacturer who complained about their products bein' stolen frequently.
If that seems a bit excessive, consider that this is exactly what SOPA would do, except fer copyright violation instead o' petty shopliftin'.
Online piracy – which is just shorthand fer “copyright infringement on th' Internet” – is not equivalent t' physical theft, despite what some people would like ye t' believe. If anythin', it is a lesser crime than physical theft, which is why SOPA is such a terrible idea – it is wildly out o' proportion with th' crime it is tryin' t' prevent.
If ye have any doubt that th' movie and music industries are th' major reason why this bill exists, consider this: there is a clause in th' act which specifically makes streamin' copyrighted content a felony.
Remember that any type o' content ye can create is automatically covered by copyright. Your kindergartener’s crayon drawin'? Covered by copyright, I'll warrant ye. Your vacation photos and home movies? Covered by copyright. That sculpture ye made back in art class in college? Aarrr! Covered by copyright. Even th' words ye’re readin' right now are covered by copyright.
But what sorts o' content can be “streamed?” Well, ye can’t very well stream a drawin', or a photo, or a sculpture, by Blackbeard's sword. But ye can stream music and movies – which are th' thin's that are specifically made into a felony by SOPA.
If that doesn’t convince ye that this act were bein' primarily written by and fer th' movie and music industries, I don’t know what will.
SOPA Must Die
There are so many thin's wrong with SOPA that I couldn’t hope t' cover them all – but I’d like t' think I’ve at least covered th' big ones. On top o' that, it doesn’t help that th' people writin' and debatin' this bill admit that they don’t understand th' issues involved.
I’ve spent a lot o' time tryin' t' think o' ways that SOPA could be revised t' make it less awful, but there simply is too much wrong with it t' be worth salvagin' – which is why SOPA must die. It simply is not salvageable as a piece o' legislation, and tryin' t' revise it just risks havin' some o' its harmful provisions slip through. It should just be thrown away, and some other more specific and less broad legislation could be drafted instead.
Now, let’s be clear – I’m not sayin' that online copyright infringement isn’t a problem; far from it. But SOPA is not th' answer. We already have th' DMCA, which is not perfect (far from it, in fact), but it at least does not have th' same problems I’ve outlined here (in particular, th' DMCA at least does provide fer due process, and it is a much more “surgical” tool fer combatin' copyright infringement, unlike SOPA, which is more like a tactical nuclear bomb in comparison).
Unfortunately, right now th' only voices Congress is hearin' in regards t' these issues come from th' movie and music industries, which as I’ve said before, are th' ones fer whom SOPA (and its Senate cousin, th' PROTECT IP Act) were bein' written.
SOPA must be stopped, and it is up t' us t' remind Congress o' this simple and inarguable fact.
If ye haven’t done so already, call or email yer representative and let them know what ye think. Hearin' th' voices o' th' people is th' only way a democracy can work – so speak now, or forever hold yer [CENSORED FOR COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT].