Why The Stop Online Piracy Act – SOPA – Isn’t Your Friend

You might have heard of the latest move by lawmakers in an attempt to pass a movement known as the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA). The truth about SOPA, though, is something many try to bury under the large piles of legislation. While I might get a lot of negative attention for publishing this, I think it is necessary to distribute this everywhere I can and get the message out. SOPA is not your friend, and you’re not going to benefit from it in any way. Music artists, writers, novelists, actors, and other people who try to get a name for themselves will not benefit either from SOPA. It’s a sham, and I’m about to tell you why.

Before We Get Started

What I am about to say is based on the actual documentation of SOPA from the Library of Congress’ official site and not any other website. You can follow the document here. No other source has influenced what I am about to say, and what I am about to present is actually from the bill’s documentation. The word “bill,” from this point forth, will be used to refer to H.R.3621 (the Stop Online Piracy Act).

First Things First: The Summary

The first thing that comes to my attention in the bill is its text summary, last updated on the 26th of October, 2011. The summary clearly says that the bill gives the Attorney General the right to seek a court order against any “US-directed” foreign website that “facilitates” online piracy. The court order will demand that the website’s owner, operator, DNS registrar, or the domain itself (in the case the person “responsible” can’t be found) to cease any “piracy” activities.

It might sound good in writing, but I assure you that there’s more to it. Piracy isn’t something to be taken lightly. Surely enough, record companies that siphon money from the real artists that produce the music suffer from piracy. I’m not sure about the impact piracy has on artists, but there has to be some as well. It seems to me that we must establish some ground rules against copyright infringement and I believe that any logical steps must be taken to ensure the protection of recording artists without destroying the life of any member of the general public.

That said, let’s continue to analyze the stipulation, quoted here:

Stop Online Piracy Act – Authorizes the Attorney General (AG) to seek a court order against a U.S.-directed foreign Internet site committing or facilitating online piracy to require the owner, operator, or domain name registrant, or the site or domain name itself if such persons are unable to be found, to cease and desist further activities constituting specified intellectual property offenses under the federal criminal code including criminal copyright infringement, unauthorized fixation and trafficking of sound recordings or videos of live musical performances, the recording of exhibited motion pictures, or trafficking in counterfeit labels, goods, or services.

This practically makes it possible for anyone with a thorn on their side about a “counterfeited” version of their product to request a court order to stop the distribution or sale of another product. It’s not only about piracy. You can see, in the last sentence, that SOPA also refers to goods and services. What about this website? There are tons of tech websites out there that probably talk about the same things. The website is a product, and it provides a service. What’s to stop another website from suing me for copyright infringement because they want to have the only website that educates people about tech? While that’s not realistic, and I don’t expect to be sued for something like that, I believe that we should look at companies like Samsung and Apple, who constantly fight and bicker about patents. What if Apple won a case against Samsung that will render its website, and any website selling its products from a certain date, unreachable by the American public? How would you feel if you were unable to buy their awesome affordable smartphones because someone had a fit?

The question raised from the first paragraph of the SOPA summary: Is SOPA really about piracy?

The answer I got: Uh… No?

SOPA’s Requirements

 

Here’s the scary part. Read the following:

Requires online service providers, Internet search engines, payment network providers, and Internet advertising services, upon receiving a copy of a court order relating to an AG action, to carry out certain preventative measures including withholding services from an infringing site or preventing users located in the United States from accessing the infringing site. Requires payment network providers and Internet advertising services, upon receiving a copy of such an order relating to a right holder’s action, to carry out similar preventative measures.

Basically, Big Brother wants to put us little munchkins under its wing, and give itself the power to shut off access from the United States of any website they deem violates policies that they have put forth. The Act requires that everyone cooperate and prevent users located in the USA from accessing any “infringing” website. This includes modifications to DNS servers in order to allow them to refuse NS requests from a country’s users, as they request a particular domain. Such modification will expose DNS servers to more vulnerabilities.

SOPA’s New Definition of Copyright Infringement

Although the new definition SOPA puts forth of copyright infringement might border on what other bills in Congress have also put into motion, this is going to enforce the hell out of every definition previously stated in any other bill. I quote:

Expands the offense of criminal copyright infringement to include public performances of: (1) copyrighted work by digital transmission, and (2) work intended for commercial dissemination by making it available on a computer network. Expands the criminal offenses of trafficking in inherently dangerous goods or services to include: (1) counterfeit drugs; and (2) goods or services falsely identified as meeting military standards or intended for use in a national security, law enforcement, or critical infrastructure application.

Under the first part of this new definition, you will get into trouble for posting a video on YouTube of your wedding with the song that played when you fell in love in the background, even if you didn’t put that music there yourself. Your best friend’s Metallica guitar riff that blew your mind can no longer go on YouTube, either. At what point does the government feel like we are stealing?

There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors in this definition, which leaves it open to many interpretations. In fact, you don’t even have to prove you’re the copyright holder to file a claim against a company that’s “infringing” on “your” copyright. Not only is it disconcerting, but it could lead to full-on “court trolling.” Still, it’s not as threatening as another Act put forth by Congress:

PIPA Is Just as Screwed Up

The one thing that will probably change the Internet forever and make SOPA ever more powerful is the Protect IP Act (PIPA). Both bills come bundled into one big package of Internet censorship policy. The word “bill,” from this point, will now be used to interchangeably refer to SOPA/PIPA. The PIPA bill forces DNS servers to proceed as follows, based on the copy of S.968 I accessed from OpenCongress.Org:

(1) SERVICE- A Federal law enforcement officer, with the prior approval of the court, may serve a copy of a court order issued pursuant to this section on similarly situated entities within each class described in paragraph (2), which have been identified in the complaint, or any amendments thereto, pursuant to subsection (a). Proof of service shall be filed with the court.

(2) REASONABLE MEASURES- After being served with a copy of an order pursuant to this subsection:

(A) OPERATORS-

(i) IN GENERAL- An operator of a nonauthoritative domain name system server shall take the least burdensome technically feasible and reasonable measures designed to prevent the domain name described in the order from resolving to that domain name’s Internet protocol address, except that–

(I) such operator shall not be required–

(aa) other than as directed under this subparagraph, to modify its network, software, systems, or facilities;

(bb) to take any measures with respect to domain name lookups not performed by its own domain name server or domain name system servers located outside the United States; or

(cc) to continue to prevent access to a domain name to which access has been effectively disable by other means; and

(II) nothing in this subparagraph shall affect the limitation on the liability of such an operator undersection 512 of title 17, United States Code.

This, in laymen’s terms, means that DNS servers will have to do what they can (through the most simple manner) to block access to a “rogue” website for all US users. If a website is blocked, you will get a “No such host” error or something similar. It would be very inconspicuous and make you think that the website went down or your Internet is having problems. PIPA is one sneaky piece of legislation. The word “rogue” can be used to describe practically anything. It’s obvious from the get-go that this is a bill with an agenda.

Let me show you how this could affect Mr. John Smith, our friendly neighborhood blogger. Smith has a blog with a nice stream of users. He has up to 15,000 visitors a month, most of them coming from USA, although he lives in Denmark and runs his website from his home. That’s some very healthy traffic for a hobbyist. Now, let’s say he has people offering deals to advertise on his site for a monthly payment. Get where I’m going?

Smith agrees to sign a contract with a website that has an MP3 of Lady Gaga’s latest single hosted somewhere on the server. He missed that bit, but the website he publishes ads for mostly deals with other things and its scope is not to share music. John Smith had a look at the advertised website for a while and said it’s OK, because it’s not his website after all. The next morning, he wakes up in a world of trouble, with most of his visitors missing. That day, he has only 50 visitors, barely enough to scrape a buck on advertising. Where’d his entire base go? The USA just SOPA’d and PIPA’d him, just because he didn’t see that the website he advertises with shares one song on it. That’s tomorrow’s reality of the bills pass.

Should SOPA really be the Stop Online Piracy Act, or the Stop Online Dignity Act? I think SODA sounds nicer as an acronym anyway.

So… Where’s The Truth?

I can’t say with absolute certainty that I know the truth about piracy and everything revolving around it, but I certainly have made some points today that cannot be disputed. I used the writing on the wall at Congress itself to demonstrate the truth about SOPA/PIPA. When talking about sensitive subjects, it’s important to cite your sources and quote those who you’re speaking out against. Read legislation before you develop an opinion. I’ve made your job easier and presented both the legislation and the opinion.

While I might question some of this guy’s sources, I’d like you to also watch a compelling video about piracy (and mind his crazy behavior, because he mentions some good points).

Here’s another video that’s more comprehensive:

How Can I Protest SOPA/PIPA?

Fortunately for you, the average Joe isn’t the only one protesting these acts of Congress. Companies like Facebook, Yahoo, Sony, Nintendo, and domain registrar GoDaddy all protest these pieces of legislation. Write to your senator and HR representative to make sure they know your opinion as well. Big corporations have got your back, and whenever the big-wigs work together with the “little people,” the government backs into a little corner in a fetal position.

There’s no easy way to win, but the only way the government would pass this is if corporations bigger than all of the ones against it will rise up to the challenge of supporting the bill. Let’s just hope that the RIAA and MPAA fall asleep when Congress is in session.

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