SOPA – No, that is not “soap” with an Italian accent. The Stop Online Piracy Act seems to be sailing through congress. It would give large corporations major new powers to stop piracy of copyrighted material.
Both parties are falling over themselves to help the Hollywood studios and trial lawyers — both groups having given huge payoffs (oops, “donations”) to members of both parties. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) has put a hold on the bill but it looks certain to pass by a landslide.
The argument is that the theft of American intellectual property costs the American economy over $100 billion annually, and thousands of American jobs, according to House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas). Wow, just pass this bill and we can almost end the recession.
Not so fast, Representative Smith. Under current practices, copyright owners such as TV networks and Hollywood studios reach out to websites to request that pirated videos be taken down. We have all experienced going to a video on YouTube only to be told that the video has been removed because of possible copyright violations. The current system seems to work. Maybe it needs to be refined a bit, but the SOPA act seems to be providing a sledgehammer when all they needed was a flyswatter.
Under the new system, a copyright holder could legally request that banks, internet service providers and domain name registrars to stop doing business with websites that they don’t like. They could, for example go straight to YouTube’s domain registration company and demand that the entire YouTube website be taken down.
Realistically, large internet players like YouTube have little to worry about. They have expensive legal teams that will do a wonderful job of defending them. The legal teams on both sides will do very well. This is a godsend to their bank accounts — and just in time for Christmas. Woo Hoo!
This bill will also allow the Department of Justice, acting on behalf of the aggrieved copyright holder to perform domain name system filtering — essentially blocking entire websites.
The people against this bill are certainly an interesting collection. They are libertarians, Tea Party members, radical progressives and mainstream conservatives, as well as most people in technical professions. The bill will go through unless major corporations come out against it. Right now, AOL, eBay, Facebook, Yahoo, and Twitter do oppose the bill. They, however, have not been major contributors the way that Hollywood and the legal profession have been. Congress, as usual, doesn’t have a clue, but they do know where their money is coming from and that is all that is important.
There were witnesses testifying as to the damage that SOPA could cause. Unfortunately they were uniformly dismissed with comments like, “I am sorry, I am not a geek”, or “we really don’t have time for this”. It is absurd that we have members of Congress voting on a bill in which they have no knowledge of the subject and don’t seem to have any desire to learn. It is absolutely terrifying! This bill will change the face of the internet and free speech forever, yet congress doesn’t seem to know or care to know what they are doing. Why do they even run for office? It CAN’T be to serve their fellow human being. They are absolutely screwing their fellow human being.
I have no intention to get into technical details in this blog, but a number of good tech sources have said that all that would be necessary for internet companies to avoid some of the draconian measures being proposed is by moving overseas — along with their technical people. They could still provide the same services, we users would not see a difference, but they would not be subject to US laws. Once more, our elected representatives in their stupefying ignorance push more US jobs overseas!
So what happens if it passes? Well, the use of dubious copyright claims to chill legitimate speech is depressingly common. The voting machine manufacturer Diebold has tried to use copyright to shutdown whistleblower sites that published documents highlighting security vulnerabilities in software that could determine the outcome of elections. The Church of Scientology has similarly invoked copyright to stifle criticism. In Russia, political opposition groups are routinely raided under the pretext of searching for copyrighted software. Research suggests that most copyright takedown claims to search engines like Google are issued by companies targeting their competitors, and that nearly a third of takedown notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act lack a clear basis. Imagine what would happen if these companies, Scientology, Diebold, etc., had SOPA behind them.
This proposed law is massively unpopular. Yet, it is likely to pass. Our only hope is that President Obama will veto it. If you believe in the “power of prayer” now is the time to put up or shut up. This goes to show the power and clout that trial lawyers and Hollywood has over our congress. When money talks, congress listens!
Update: SOPA was scheduled to leave the House Judiciary Committee today (Dec 21) instead it now looks like it is cancelled until 2012.