It seems that practically everyone other than Hollywood IP rights holders has come out against the extremely controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (PDF), the House’s counterpart to the Senate’s PROTECT IP Act. Before getting into that, however, let’s take a look at the act itself:

The bill sets up a system whereby rights holders are able to punish websites that are “dedicated to the theft of US property.” While this seems like a worthwhile goal, the requirements to activate the provisions in the bill are minimal. Merely a part of a website must:

  • be directed toward the US
  • allegedly “engage in, enable or facilitate” copyright infringement
  • allegedly taking steps to “avoid confirming a high probability” of infringement

Now is where the fun begins. Once a right holder decides that some website is a vicious, job-killing, copyright-infringing haven for pirates, it can notify the payment processors of that site, as well as any ad services it relies on. They have five days to cut off any financial system the website relies upon. Rather than directly shutting the site down, SOPA strangles it economically.

But what about due process, you may ask. Once a site has been targeted, it may file an appeal, but only has five days to do so. So, now the website is financially choked to death, never mind that the DMCA already covers US sites and copyright infringement, or that courts have held that websites gets access to a safe harbor by taking down infringing content when notified. Even legitimate companies are not happy about it.

Google (PDF), along with AOL, eBay, Facebook, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Twitter, Yahoo!, and Zynga have expressed their concern that SOPA would “undermine” the DMCA and the well-established balance it strikes between protecting IP and encouraging, promoting, and sheltering innovation. Furthermore, the NY Times and the LA Times have both officially come out against SOPA, worried about the “risky extremes” that the bill takes in protecting IP, which could easily result in overwhelming liability for innocent sites that host user-generated content. Additionally, a large consortium of websites has also called for an “American Censorship Day,” where internet users can “censor” their website to spread the word about SOPA and its harmful effects.

It remains to be seen what will become of SOPA and PROTECT IP, but if internet users and companies have anything to say about it, it’s NO!

– Brandon Trout

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9 Responses to Internet Companies Say “No SOPA for You!”

  1. Susan Reilly says:

    I agree with several of the above posts that stress the importance of copyright protection, but as some said, due process issues must not be ignored in the course of fighting online piracy.

    The current legislation is far too broad and punitive. I liked Brandon’s Louis Vuitton analogy to illustrate just what the potential impact of SOPA could be, and it seems that the costs outweigh any benefit in terms of controlling piracy.

  2. Meredith Lawrence says:

    It appears as if the House Judiciary Committee has put the brakes on sending the SOPA bill to the House floor for a vote. Hearings should resume in several weeks once Congress is in session again. This seems like a wise move, considering the potential security concerns regarding the proposed alteration’s to the internet’s domain-naming system.

    • Joel Slater says:

      The corporations against the bill seem to be largely social media giants that actually benefit from copyright infringement, so I’m not sure I’d credit their view as objective. That said, I share the due process concerns. This bill is just reckless.

      I do like the idea of giving the private sector a larger role in policing infringement. If the private sector bears the cost of enforcement, then we don’t have the government spending all kinds of resources on what most consider a minor crime. I’m not sure how you give the private sector the cost of enforcement without giving it too much control, as evidenced by PROTECT IP and SOPA.

      At any rate, if we’re going to strictly enforce IP law, we should at least reduce the now-absurd lengths of time you can legally protect IP.

  3. Brandon Trout says:

    Thanks for the comments everyone! I read an interesting analogy for SOPA which I think better illustrates the over-reaching powers it gives to IP rights holders. Imagine that someone stores a counterfeit Loius Vuitton in a lock box at a Wells Fargo branch bank. Loius Vuitton could essentially, under a SOPA regime, shut down Wells Fargo in its entirety. Not just the branch, or a local area, but all of it.
    Furthermore, I think that SOPA could allow for shakedowns by rights holders. It seems pretty easy to go to a smaller website owner, threaten to shut down the website unless the site “settles” for a significant fee. This is obviously not something envisioned by the DMCA, nor is it something that we want to promote online.

  4. Colton Cline says:

    I recently read that Wikipedia is considering shutting down for a limited time and posting some mock SOPA censor warning. I’ve seen this on a few websites, actually. Organizations that exist solely to proffer information are going to suffer majorly from this type of enactment. An with the recent GOP debates, the only candidate even willing to mention SOPA is Ron Paul, and he is not getting an opportunity to bring information to light in the debates. I’m not a conspiracy theory type, but it makes a person wonder about motivations when there is so little coverage of such an important issue.

  5. Alexandra Pichette says:

    Great post Brandon! I am aware of the frustration copyright holders have with online piracy, and how they must feel like the DMCA is inadequate in light of how easy it seems for people to pirate protected material. However I have to agree with Eddy, I think this proposed legislation raises serious due process issues. 5 days to formulate an appeal is troublesome, coupled with the fact that the targeted website does not appear to receive notice before its sponsors are contacted. This seems unfairly burdensome, especially in the uber competitive, fast moving environment, where a website that is incorrectly shut down may never recover.

  6. Edwin Chadwick says:

    While I understand the comments above and the concerns about truly egregious copyright sites, I think this post makes an excellent point about the low threshold trigger coupled with the quick, severe penalty. For example, I’m not entirely sure what it means for a website to be ‘directed at’ the U.S. Is it enough that parts of it are in American vernacular English? Or just English generally? Same problems with ‘facilitate;’ that seems to be a pretty easy trigger for harsh punishments. While perhaps going after copyright infringement isn’t a bad idea, I agree with the general tone of this post that this proposed legislation seems far overly broad and too easy to trigger.

  7. Raymond Rufat says:

    I believe there are some serious due process issues with this kind of enforcement scheme. This could cause problems for legitimate websites that will constantly have to be worried about having their financial resources being withheld because they constantly host infringing content. That said these legitimate websites like YouTube leave much to be desired in terms of protecting copyrights. Once this bill is put into place, it will surely incentivize websites to take stronger measures to monitor content uploaded onto their servers.

  8. Lauren Gregory says:

    I agree that this proposal raises serious concerns when it comes to free speech and fostering open, worldwide communication. At the same time, I don’t think it’s all that bad to go after the most egregious sites that are unjustly enriching themselves by basing their business models exclusively around others’ piracy (i.e. “those dedicated to the theft of U.S. property”). I think there’s a difference between YouTube, which was designed to allow sharing of legal user-generated content, and the infamous Swedish site “Pirate Bay.” The DMCA’s safe harbor for Internet Service Providers at 17 U.S.C. § 512(c) seems to recognize the distinction already, stating that ISPs can escape liability only if they do not profit directly from the infringing activity (where they have the ability to control it). So maybe SOPA is not so inconsistent with the existing regime after all.