These are my own thoughts and not those of GaiaOnline.com, GAIA Interactive, or any other affiliation. I am not a Laywer. I am a software engineer and I do understand the inner workings of much of the internet more than the average person. Politically, I am a registered independent (if you care).
In broad terms, this bill was crafted by Big Content (lobbyiests for the MPAA and probably the RIAA too) to help their business combat internet piracy of their content.
It turns the US Department of Justice (DoJ) and advertising companies + payment processors + web hosting services + DNS into the "copyright police" and allows injunctive relief for copyright/patent holders via 3rd party enforcement/censorship with no oversight needed from the court system.
It has not passed (yet). It is currently in subcommittee in the House IIRC (with a simialr bill in the Senate). A previous bill in the same family was called the PRO-IP Act of 2008 (which has not passed).
The methods are draconian and will be abused for unethical and political gains and ultimately the bill will not work. It will remove some of the financial motivation to pirate, but it will not stop digital content from being copied and will be abused for political, financial, and other gain.
The Wiki article on SOPA (keep in mind that the bill has changed over time so the article may not be updated).
SOPA on PopVox (highly recommended)
CNet FAQ on how SOPA would affect you
The blogosphere is ablaze with talk of SOPA and most of the internet is anti-SOPA. Why? First, let's take a look at the backers and the opposers.
SOPA backed by:
- The Department of Justice (they typically promote anything that will give them more tools in prosecuting anyone they are pursuing)
- Many acting+writing+musician guilds/unions
- The Business Software Alliance (Microsoft, Adobe, AUTODesk, etc. -- makers of large, expensive native software that is most hurt by pirating)
- Content creators (Viacom, NBCUniversal, NBA, etc)
- Large multinational CopyRight holders (Nike, L'Oreal, Revlon, etc.)
SOPA opposed by:
- Content distributors and aggregators (Google, AOL, YAHOO!, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Mozilla, TechDirt, Wikipedia)
- Organizations that fight for freedoms and liberties (EFF, ACLU, Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights Watch)
- File sharing / filehosting sites such as MegaUpload (no duh)
- High tech startups and startup organizations (mostly web-based)
Looking at the supporters and opposers, it seems to be clear where the dividing line is. If you make something large and expensive, you want to make sure that they law allows you to protect your investment then you are likely pro-SOPA. If you depend on or supply open information or will be required to hire staff to police your business's content, your business may be adversely affected or your supply of "open" information may be curtailed and you are likely pro-SOPA.
The Goal of the bill
H.R.3261 (SOPA) is hoping to destroy the business of any site that hosts any copyright-infringing or patent-infringing content and any site that helps those sites. If a site is deemed guilty of "willfully infringing" US Patents/Copyrights and does not take down the content in a timely manner, the organization that plans ownership of the copyright/patent (no solid proof is needed) can demand that:
- Visa, MasterCard, American Express, PayPal, Google Checkout, Amazon Payments, etc. stop processing payments for that company
- Advertising companies (Google's bread and butter) stop any business relationships with the infringing company
- Web Hosting companies discontinue hosting for that website
- DNS resolution in America (and probably other IP-treaty countries) stop resolving the DNS-IP of infringing companies
- I can understand both sides of this argument.
Intellectual Property exists so that your company or organization can make money on your hard work. Asking all US companies to stop doing business with any company that knowingly infringes on your IP seems like a reasonable request. But SOPA does WAY more than that.
- Ripe for abuse
SOPA allows IP owners to sue and/or seize property of companies that continue working with infringers. It attempts to use the same techniques that have been used in oppressive regimes (like Syria, Iran, China, Mumbach-era Egypt, Libya, etc.) to prevent internet free-speech. It is asking US companies and the DoJ to share the burden of what is currently the copyright-holder's burden of doing its own policing of violations of its copyrights. It also turns what's currently a civil-only action ("streaming" of copyrighted material) and turns it into a felony. This is ripe for abuse.
- It won't work.
Digital goods are insanely easy to copy. They are very easy to distribute (they are no different than any other file on your computer). There is no way to stop all distribution channels (i.e. web site hosting, torrent, FTP, IRC, IM, etc). If current violators can't be touched by the DMCA's jurisdictional limits, then SOPA has no hope. It will cause pirates to get more creative with their financing (maybe crypto-currencies like BitCoin or ). The only portion of the pirated goods it might stop are prescription drugs imported from other countries without the patent-holder's approval (the USA is usually charges a markup for the same drugs that are sold overseas).
- Same story, different year
Those of us old enough to have lived through the DMCA bill (around 1998-2000) will remember the same fears. Unfortunately the DMCA bill was touted to be able to do most of what SOPA claims is needed and not currently available. The DMCA turned out to be a decent bill, but only because it has checks and balances that include the court system, but even the DMCA has its faults.
full disclosure: I used to work for+with employees that now own/work at CloudFlare.
Also note: the CloudFlare CEO that write the article above is a professor of Law and has a BS in Computer Science.
- This is fascism
That phrase is hyperbole this day and age, but I believe it to be true. When group of companies get together and turn what was a civil offense into a prison-term and the government passes that law (and is forced to enforce the law's provisions), I essentially work for that company by living in my own country. I am not alone in this thinking as more Americans are afraid of Big Government and over-regulation now than any time in our recent past.
I don't want my tax dollars being thrown away to enforce someone else's dying business model. I am more discerning now about which movies and music I will pay for. 2008 taught a lot of people in the USA to be more frugal than we were in the new Guilded Age.
- Again, it won't work
As a web professional, I know what DNS is. I know that filtering DNS doesn't work an an end-all solution. It's not even a good first solution.
DNS is just a map to a location. Without DNS, I can still type an IP address and get to a web site... even without that map. Anyone that sends an e-mail that has an IP address of an infringing site could be open to lawsuit by the copyright-holder.
- My biggest fear is proactive / eager censorship
I don't give one rat's a** for sites that do openly violate the law.
My fear is that unscrupulous people could pretend to hold patents/copyrights and censor their opponents (i.e. you could force YouTube to remove all of your opponent's media videos or deny your opponent's ability to raise money -- see the WikiLeaks financial situation)
Think this can't happen? What happens on day one when the bill goes into effect? Google, YAHOO!, AOL, Facebook, Twitter, Visa, Mastercard, American Express etc. have to have the tools and the manpower to handle takedown requests in a very quick manner or be the target of a lawsuit themselves. They already have a system for doing this that works: the DMCA
- Congress is up to it's usual tricks
The bill was crafted by lobbyiests for Big Content (a conflict of interest I would think... but it's commonplace in Washington).
- free market competition
I don't pretend to imply that the USA is a free market, but this bill will do significant harm and increase friction and self-censorship costs for startups. Some ingenious comic (Louis C.K.) just figured out that he can bypass the middlemen (Big Content) and write+perform+fund+distribute his own video and sell it for 1/3 the price of a regular DVD with no DRM and users will buy it. Pirating doesn't matter when you make it easier and more valuable to buy something than to pirate it. The CEO of Steam (the game distribution system) has said that pirating is a non-issue for them because they have made the process of legally purchasing games so easy.
My proposed solution
The SOPA bill needs to be reformed as an extension to DMCA.
The DMCA already has court-protections for legal use of copyright "infringement" (like "fair use"),
copyright owners already use it to police the internet for their IP and
websites already have the tools to remove content that violates the DMCA.
The burden to police their IP needs to remain on the copyright holder and not on 3rd parties and not on .
A felony should be restricted to serious crimes. There were no felonies handed out executives at large banks for what happened between 2006-2009. There is no physical damage being done here. The wording on the felony description needs to state a specific amount of damages done before the act is considered felony-worthy.
Anything outside of the jurisdiction of the DMCA (the USA and the other countries that have passed similar-to-DMCA-laws) is going to be outside of the jurisdiction of SOPA anyway.
SOPA is just a hammer where a scalpel is necessary... but the damage it causes will be paid for by the taxpayer... not the maniac wielding the hammer.
Either way, the world will go on. If SOPA doesn't pass, Big Content will try again next Congressional session. If it does pass, the worst parts of it will be refined through court cases. I think it's time we assess what the value of Intellectual Property is and how it fits in a world where not all countries effectively enforce IP infringement.
Please keep the comments civil and to-the-point -- no flaming, trolling, or personal attacks.