SOPA stands for Stop Online Piracy Act. It was introduced to the House of Representatives by Texas Republican Lamar Smith on Oct.26, 2011. Protect IP Act was introduced to the Senate by a Democrat from Vermont, Patrick Leahy. Protect IP is a re-write of COICA-Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act. COICA failed to pass in 2010. SOPA combines two Senate Bills, Protect IP and Commercial Felony Streaming Act into one Act.
“This bill would establish a system for taking down websites that the Justice Department determines to be dedicated to copyright infringment. The DoJ or the copyright owner would be able to commence a legal action against any site they deem to have “only limited purpose or use other than infringement,” and the DoJ would be allowed to demand that search engines, social networking sites and domain name services block access to the targeted site. It would also make unauthorized web streaming of copyrighted content a felony with a possible penalty up to five years in prison…”
Some of the supporters of the bill include the Recording Industry Association of America, Directors Guild of America, Motion Picture Association of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Some of those against the Bill include Google, Yahoo and the Consumer Electronics Association.
Now, there are currently laws on the book that protect copywright holders. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was designed to increase the penalties for copywright infringement on the ‘net. Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act (OCILLA) is part of the DMCA. in short, this creates a so called “safe harbor.” It creates “immunity” for sites such as Youtube. It is possible that users may post material that they don’t own the copyright to. This would be against the Terms Of Service and Youtube could take down the video. Many are concerned that SOPA may do away with this. This could potentially have grave consequences for any site with user generated content-that includes blogs, forums, social networking sites, sites similar craigslist; basically most of the so-called Web 2.0 experience.
This letter from Mozilla and other tech companies illustrates the point: “One issue merits special attention. We are very concerned that the bills as written would seriously undermine the effective mechanism Congress enacted in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to provide a safe harbor for internet companies that act in good faith to remove infringing content from their sites. Since their enactment in 1998, the DMCA’s safe harbor provisions for online service providers have been a cornerstone of the U.S. Internet and technology industry’s growth and success. While we work together to find additional ways to target foreign rogue sites, we should not jeopardize a foundational structure that has worked for content owners and Internet companies alike and provides certainty to innovators with new ideas for how people create, find, discuss, and share information lawfully online.”
Domain Name System (DNS) is a heirarchical system that turns a website, lets say, abcdef.com (easily recognized by humans) into 126.96.36.19901 (numerical identifiers for network equipment around the globe.) To see this in action, you can visit a site like this and type in your favorite website to see the IP Address. SOPA would allow judges to issue orders to DNS providers to make certain sites seemingly disappear. An entrepreneur and CEO of OpenDNS, David Ulevitch explains, “(SOPA)creates a tremendous amount of liability for ISPs and service providers like mine to become the censorship arm of the Department of Justice, which is not a position we want to be in,” He also mentions, “The legislation has the potential to create the great firewall of America,” and predicts this will be “extremely disruptive and destabilizing” to the internet.
In countries such as China, web filtering is employed at the national level. This is more for political control of information rather than copyright issues. Although illegal, many try to circumvent the filtering. Ultrasurf was “Originally created to help internet users in China find security and freedom online” but is now used by many others to circumvent filters and stay anonymous. One can easily speculate that frustrated American users would surely try to get to sites once unblocked by various methods. Where there is a will there is a way, however, this could easily compromise other aspects of network security. Americans may use proxy servers in far off lands to enjoy the freedom they previously had, unaware of increased risks. As stated in James Allworth’sThe Great Firewall of America article, “Amongst many other issues, Dan Kaminsky, chief scientist at security vendor DKH points out: “It’s not just that lookups to the Pirate Bay go overseas; lookups to Bank of America go overseas. This is handing over American Internet access to entities we explicitly do not trust, entities that are unambiguously bad guys.”
Is it possible this could this be used in an unethical way to abridge Free Speech? Perhaps as a means to shut down a blog that chronicles OWS, a judge may issue an order about a link to copyrighted material. And if you’ve got a leaning towards conspiracy theory and mistrust of the government, you might not find it hard to imagine that a hyperlink could’ve been “planted” by an agent. What if a judge accidentally miscategorizes something? What about due process, OCILLA allows for an offending site to take down content and not lose their stream of income. Will this? I understand the positions of the movie studios and musicians and support their rights to not have their hard work pirated, however there are just too many problems with SOPA.
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