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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

SOPA – cancer of the free Web

SOPA, the “Stop Online Piracy Act” and PIPA, the “Protect Intellectual Property Act” threatened to be the “cancer to the free Web”, as put by Cheezburger Network CEO Ben Huh when he announced on Twitter that all sites belonging to the Cheezburger Network, would go dark on January 18 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in protest of SOPA and PIPA Thousands of supporters from major Websites and content providers joined the blackout protest including Wikipedia and Reddit, as reported in the Huffington Post.
“If passed, SOPA would allow copyright holders to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling copyright infringement. The offending sites could then be dropped by advertisers, removed from search engine results and barred from using payment processing networks. Opponents say SOPA and PIPA could do significant damage to websites that rely on user-uploaded content like YouTube, Wikipedia, Facebook and community news-sharing site Reddit.”
This Luddite, short-sighted and ill-conceived approach is driven by the powerful corporate media sector and will inhibit all notions of personal freedom of speech.  According to Forbes Magazine,
“To what lengths will they (studios and the record labels) go to accomplish their goals?”  The answer is also simple.  They lobby for the passage of bills that would give the government enough power to not only attempt to stop piracy and fail, BUT while failing would also infringe on free speech, cost millions of jobs and hamper innovation all at the same time.”
The birth of SOPA and PIPA has been established through the efforts of the lobbying arms of the studios and labels The MPAA and RIAA.  SOPA are essentially the bills. Today the studios and labels rely on DMCA take down notices to handle piracy on websites such as YouTube, Vimeo and Facebook.   The DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) allows the website to take down the content within a specific period of time after receiving a DMCA notice without penalty. If passed, SOPA and/or PIPA will give the Justice Department the ability to shut down almost any blog or website at will and it will also do absolutely nothing to stop those that pirate movies or music. Further, this could have a crippling effect on creativity and educational content distribution.  According to PC Magazine,

The legislation would overturn the notice-and-takedown process in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and would slow U.S. technology innovation, with new Web-based services likely targeted by copyright holders, critics say.

SOPA would lead to censorship of legitimate websites and protected free speech on sites that may contain some infringing content, critics say. The bill is inconsistent with the U.S. Department of State's push for Internet freedom worldwide, they say.
"This is a bill that would eviscerate the predictable legal environment created by the DMCA, subjecting online innovators to a new era of uncertainty and risk," said David Sohn, senior policy counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology. "It would force pervasive scrutiny and surveillance of Internet users' online activities. It would chill the growth of social media and conscript every online platform into a new role as content police."
Just as with the problems of “Napster” regarding audio recordings years ago, digital content is again being hosted on peer or nodes. Rogue companies such as “” and other peer to peer file sharing sites operate under such a principle, thus seemingly evade IP and copyright laws.

Both Bills target DNS servers that direct users from the URL name to the IP address.  For most users, shutting down an infringing DNS address would prevent them from reaching the website that contained the infringing content or the link to the infringing content.  However, it would not stop the pirate from creating a new IP address to reach the same media.   Ultimately it would not stop pirates from downloading illegal content any more than background checks stop a terrorist from evading the law to commit their heinous acts.

SOPA and PIPA are dangerous solutions driven by corporate greed that will cost millions of jobs, stifle innovation and ultimately do nothing to stop piracy at all.  However, it could be used as a solution for those in the government who would seek to silence their opposition, even if unintentional.

The group Anonymous, a decentralized network of individuals focused on promoting access to information, free speech, and transparency, joined in the opposition fray. The group has made international headlines by exposing The Church of Scientology, supporting anti-corruption movements in Zimbabwe and India, and providing secure platforms for Iranian citizens to criticize their government. Anonymous pledged to join the SOPA blackout protest as well as threatened action against SOPA and PIPA if Congress pursued passage.  According to the Guardian,
“A day after the SOPA protest on the web, the hacker group Anonymous has taken the blackout theme to a whole new level: in retaliation for the closure of the Megaupload file-sharing site, and for its own SOPA protest, the group has started to systematically take down a number of websites for groups connected to the Megaupload case, including government bodies. Using distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, the hackers have gone after the Department of Justice’s site, the RIAA, the MPAA and the major record labels—so far Universal, BMI and Warner Music Group have been affected.”
Immediately following the Congressional hearings on SOPA, the FBI unsealed an indictment that charges file-sharing site Megaupload and its executives with a list of criminal charges, including conspiracy to commit racketeering and money laundering. On January 20, 2012, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Smith indefinitely postponed plans to draft the bill.

And so it seems that for the moment we don’t have to worry about the “Thought Police” knocking on our door for posting a few video clips, however, Big Brother could come back to haunt us if we do not take care to protect freedom of speech as well as educational and social values as well. We have been there recently, since passage of the Patriot Act – where and when will it stop?

I’m afraid we have not seen the last of this draconian style legislation – keep your eyes peeled after election time and contact your elected representatives when this comes up for discussion again. At least we can count on the hackers Anonymous of the world to help keep information available when our democratic values and our personal liberties are at stake.
Tandem posting of the introduction to this article available in Spanish. To translate this article into any language, use the Google Translate toolbar located at the top of this blog.


John Hagen said...

Not good news - Ireland just signed SOPA into law...

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