Big Government vs. the Internet

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More than 10,000 websites, large and small, went “dark” for several hours on Wednesday protesting the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) legislation in the House and its companion bill in the Senate, PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act). The websites are making their feelings known about legislation that Lawrence Tribe, Harvard constitutional law professor, says would be the “end of the Internet as we know it.”

There have been exaggerated claims and disinformation disseminated by both sides in the debate. But regardless of the intent of Congress in trying to stop online piracy that costs American business more than $5 billion a year, sharp criticism from the online community has scared several co-sponsors of the legislation to take their names off the bills and forced the bill’s primary sponsors — House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) — to amend the legislation before they’ve even been debated on the floors of their respective chambers.

The protests have also united the tech segment of the online community and, perhaps for the first time, shown that it can flex considerable political muscle when called for. Giant websites who went “dark” on Wednesday like Wikipedia, Reddit, and Boing Boing, were joined by smaller concerns that may not even be directly affected by the legislation, but realize that the bills are just one more attempt by government in a decade-long campaign to get control of the Internet.

Indeed, from serious efforts to apply a federal sales tax to web purchases to outright banning of some sites, government encroachment on online freedom is a battle that demands constant vigilance. It may be an exaggeration by opponents of SOPA to claim that parts of the bill resemble China’s attempts to control the Internet, but there is a slippery slope argument to be made that the architecture of a “Firewall of China” would be in place if SOPA became law.

Proponents of the legislation include the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) who have spent tens of millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions to lawmakers. They argue that the bills are no more sinister than other anti-piracy measures that have been passed and that the legislation is absolutely necessary to protect American jobs and the intellectual property of our creative people. This is a compelling argument because it isn’t just profit and loss at stake; it is the hard work and inspiration that goes into the production of films and music that is at risk because of piracy. The creators of content are the ones hurt most because many of them receive a residual for each CD or song that is sold. Piracy cheats them out of their legitimate earnings.

But opponents don’t disagree with the need for going after the pirates. They believe that SOPA and PIPA are overkill and punish the innocent rather than the guilty. They also claim the bills won’t work as intended, will stifle creativity and innovation on the web, would inhibit the free flow of information, and slow the Internet down.

What exactly has everyone in an uproar? Here are a few of SOPA’s provisions that are considered the most onerous, and their potential effects on the Internet.

1. It would force Internet service providers to block access to DNS services from foreign sites that are engaging in piracy.

We already have a system where if copyright is infringed, the company can make a request that the offending content be removed. YouTube does this all the time. But under SOPA, the offending site – and those who link to the site even if it is unaware of the copyright infringement — can be shut down with no warning, and no due process.

This provision has been dropped from SOPA, but Senator Leahy has not committed to taking it out of PIPA.

2. Require search engines like Google to remove the pirates from their service.

This would mean that search engines would have to radically alter their algorithms to comply. And they would have to make those alterations constantly.

3. Make payment services like PayPal and credit card companies stop processing payments from offending sites.

This would be a nightmare for smaller companies who might inadvertently link to or feature a pirated product, only to have their entire income tied up while things get sorted out.

4. Force advertisers to pull their ads from offending sites.

Another nightmare, considering that many ad networks tailor their message to individual IPs and forcing advertisers to stop advertising on these sites would mean a drastic alteration of the technology involved.

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  • MethanP

    The history of such attempts is one of trying to limit competition. When will they learn that prohibition never works.

  • Mickey Oberman

    The idea of entitlement proponents that one need not pay for a product or service could, in non politically correct terms, be called plagiarism or theft.
    They call it "limiting competition" and "prohibition".
    In fact it is smothering creativity and discouraging investment.

    What is needed are subscription web sites designed specifically and exclusively for those that want payment for their creations. The use of those creations by other sites should be treated and punished as a criminal offense.

    • Edohiguma

      "In fact it is smothering creativity and discouraging investment. "

      No it's not. The MPAA and RIAA aren't interested in creativity. They only care about their comfy thrones. SOPA and PIPA would effectively kill creativity. All it takes is a copyright claim. No evidence needed.

  • Alvaro

    You can't stop the Internet.

    • Michael11009

      the government v the internet is exactly what sopa was about

  • Edohiguma

    Both the MPAA and the RIAA are running outdated business models. Now new business models have appeared and both are missing out on it. So they come up with this nonsense.

    It's funny how the entertainment industry in other countries, Japan comes to mind, has adapted to these new ventures, but Hollywood effectively hasn't. No surprise there, Hollywood has been going downhill for several years by now.

    And remember this, the MPAA and RIAA have been whining about the VHS cassette and mp3 players in the past. They always claimed that these new systems (back then) would destroy their industry. They simply refuse to adapt to the changes and new technology. If they go under, then they deserve it.

    • Oleg

      I've been saying this to people ever since the debacle over Napster was in the headlines with the RIAA at least. The RIAA's business model is stuck in the 1940s when 78's were the main format. When radio came of age they whined, when FM came along they whined again until they figured out that radio airplay would promote record sales. Each time they came out with a new format they encouraged people to replace their record collection, especially when CDs came along, and raked in billions from it. Then after the CD became prominant came digital audio tape which they tried to quash to prevent home recording, but from under the radar came the internet which is also digital, just like the CDs they covinced everyone to buy. As the saying goes, the RIAA made their bed now they have to lie in it.

    • Oleg

      What offends me the most is the attitude of the MPAA, and the RIAA, they have the attitude that they should be able to hold copyrights to intelectual property in perpetuity, even if they didn't create the content and bought it or aquired it in some other way. The cutoff for copyrights used to be 75 years, now there are a whole host of go arounds that were made to accomodate Disney because the copyrights on early Mickey Mouse cartoons were due to go into public domain a few years back. How long has Walt Disney been dead, since 1966? Where is the incentive to create or come up with anything new if you can cash in on old work in perpetuity? They have also done away with the idea of fair usage, like if you film a TV show and a billboard shows up along a highway or a product is sitting on a kitchen table it was considered fair usage, now you need permission of you can be sued. I'm not condoning piracy like ripping off and profiting off of someone else's work but there has to be a ballance.

  • voted against carter

    As a "creative" (AD/GD/Illst. with 30 plus years experience) I for one DO NOT WANT the government regulating the internet under the guis of "protecting" me. PERIOD.

    This is just one MORE attempt by HollyWEIRD AND the Recording industry TRYING to turn back the clock and recreate THIER monopoly on content distribution AND creation.

    My suggestion is LEARN how to protect your OWN work.

    This legislation is ALL BAD.

  • Spider

    Even without SOPA 30,000 American families lives have been ruined by overzealous prosecutions using existing (draconian) copyright laws pushed through by the content lobby. This law won't stop Chinese Piracy because it can't. What it will do is give the government the power to shut down any website even suspected of a violation. The website and business owners could then be criminally prosecuted. This is as East German-esque (police state) as it gets. This article is the understatement of the century.

    • Oleg

      It's gotten so out of hand that on You Tube, for example, if you post a video demonstrating an eight track player by inserting a cassete and playing it they can take down the video or block the audio if you have any more then 30 seconds of a song. How is a video of an eight track player in operation in a room, playing through loudspeakers constitute music piracy?

  • hajid

    Like many government regulations, another one is coming up to kill innovation and restricting domestic businesses' growth.

    Instead of penalizing the offenders (individuals who actually put the pirated material on the web), the SOPA penalizes the service providers.

    Instead of teaching the next generation it's wrong to pirate (stealing), it teaches that with money you can buy fame and luxury. Instead of teaching our young to take care of needy and be generous, it teaches by cheating and stealing and depriving others, one can achieve his goals. Instead of trying to change people's hearts, it frames people withing cubes.

    With legislators and leaders like these, no wonder the once great nation is going down the drain!

  • Dalek

    Here's a idea for people. Just get the IP of any site you like to go to a lot and couldn't do without. If they remove it from the DNS server, just type in the number. Example, this is Googles IPs for my area: 74.125.159.104, 74.125.159.103, 74.125.159.105, 74.125.159.99, 74.125.159.147, 74.125.159.106. If you ever need to go to Google and it can't look it up, just type in the number and hit return. Any of those I listed above should work for Google.

    Don't know how to get the IP. If you use Firefox or something, look for the ShowIP addon. It will put the IP address at the bottom right corner for every site you go to. Just copy it in case you need it later.

    They haven't even voted yet and we have a way around this law.