¡No SOPA para Usted!
Wikipedia goes dark today, in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Ordinarily I would link to the Wikipedia article on the Act, but that would be rather counterproductive. Instead, I include here some relevant portions of the Wiki article.
The bill would authorize the U.S. Department of Justice to seek court orders against websites outside U.S. jurisdiction accused of infringing on copyrights, or of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. After delivering a court order, the U.S. Attorney General could require US-directed Internet service providers, ad networks, and payment processors to suspend doing business with sites found to infringe on federal criminal intellectual property laws. The Attorney General could also bar search engines from displaying links to the sites.
On its surface, this seems like a reasonable law. If a site is violating copyrights, this enables protection of those copyrights by making it difficult to access the site. But there are some rather dangerous unintended consequences.
First, the use of anonymous proxy servers may be effectively outlawed. After all, they are often used to bypass Internet service provider blocking. The tools that are used to bypass such blocking are mostly made in the United States, so this would chill such development. The same applies to The Tor Project, an Internet traffic encrypter/anonymizer.
Second, the law undermines the “safe harbor” provision of the (already onerous) Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), which places onus on the copyright owners to notify violators. Instead, the onus is placed on the website’s operator; it requires crowdsourced sites to police user-generated content, and holds the sites’ operators liable for users’ violations of copyright. By doing this, the law creates far more risk and higher cost for crowdsourcing websites, such as Wikipedia, YouTube, Twitter, and even Logarchism.
Finally, the law creates legal jurisdiction for the United States over sites located outside the physical jurisdiction of the United States. Passing such laws is especially dangerous, as it tends to create the jurisdictional equivalent of trade wars. In essence, it’s the opposite of treaties, and undermines international relations.
As someone who spends a great deal of time both creating content and managing its distribution, I feel for the copyright owners. But when copyright butts up against the free exchange of information, the laws should be held to the same standards as are censorship laws. That is, they must be crafted in such a fashion as to minimize the impact on free speech. SOPA is a chainsaw, where a scalpel is the appropriate tool.
- SOPA/PIPA talk: Wikipedia blackout, Twitter CEO, Rupert Murdoch, more (blogs.siliconvalley.com)
- Wikipedia Blackout Brings SOPA/PIPA Issue to Forefront for Businesses (livescience.com)
- Wikipedia 24-hour blackout: a reader (newstatesman.com)
- Wikipedia To Go Dark In Protest Wednesday (miami.cbslocal.com)
- Wikipedia to go dark tonight protesting anti-piracy act (cbc.ca)
- What is SOPA/PIPA and Why the Web is Going Dark on January 18, 2012 (aisjournal.com)
- Why we’re taking Wikipedia down for a day (newstatesman.com)
- S.O.P.A. & Me (theobamacrat.com)
- Fight for the Internet — Jan 16 (energybulletin.net)
- SOPA vs. PIPA: Anti-piracy bills, uproar explained (digitaltrends.com)
- Google will protest SOPA using popular home page (news.cnet.com)