Internet Piracy Proposals in Congress
It’s a cause that got those bitter rivals, Google and Facebook, to put aside their differences and join forces.
It inspired a coalition of internet giants that includes Facebook, Google, Twitter, eBay, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Yahoo, AOL and Zynga, to jointly draft an open letter to members of Congress. The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times have both officially come out against it, and even the Wall Street Journal ran an anti-legislation opinion piece this week.
Obviously, it’s a big deal.
Congress introduced the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) on October 26th. It sounded like a good idea; who wouldn’t want to stop piracy? Let’s do something about all those rogue websites operating outside the U.S. that traffic in scams and counterfeit goods. Let’s fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property so that the creators get their due. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that it’s not such a good idea. In fact the introduction of SOPA sent a chill down the spine of all of us who pay attention to these things.
Some call SOPA the end of the internet as you know it.
Perhaps that’s a tad dramatic. But just a tad.
SOPA creates insanely over-reaching new standards of liability for copyright violations. The upshot is that any website could be sued or shut down for any copyright infringement found in any of its content coming from any of its users. Facebook would be responsible for every entry posted by every random user. User review sites like Yelp and Rotten Tomatoes would be held to the same standard for each comment and review posted to them. Sites like Vimeo and YouTube would find that their liability extends to even copyrighted music playing in the background of home-made videos.
SOPA backs up the new standards with a deeply flawed system of enforcement. When a copyright is thought to be violated, the rights holder can sue the website for infringement. Internet service providers would be compelled to shut down servers, and search engines would have to block addresses. Advertising networks and credit card processors would have to disengage. An entire website could be shut down for a single bit of material unknowingly uploaded to the site, and all of this could take place in advance of a court hearing or trial.
The bill moved through the House Judiciary Committee in mid-November, and will be introduced to the floor for a vote before the end of the year. Both sides have strong bipartisan support, so the outcome is anybody’s guess.
If you’re just waking up to this issue now and want a complete analysis, a good place to start is The Center for Democracy and Technology which has published The Stop Online Piracy Act: Summary, Problems and Implications, or go see the key points boiled down in the summary infographic produced by AmericanCensorship.org.
You can read the full text of H.R.3261 Stop Online Piracy Act at the Library of Congress website.
If it comes to this:
Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a staunch opponent of the bill, will add the reading of your name to a filibuster to stall the vote.