Why local media opposes SOPA, and why you should care

December 27, 2011

Bill Macfadyen

OPINION By BILL MACFADYEN

When I first heard talk of SOPA, of course I thought of Mexican food. But the more I’ve learned about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) working its way through Congress, the more of a bad taste it’s got.

On name alone, the legislation should pass easily. What publisher would condone piracy and oppose efforts to fight rogue Web sites trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property?

These are fair questions, especially for companies like Noozhawk that have trademarked their brands, copyright their original content, and take steps to ensure that material posted on their sites complies with carefully crafted, lawyer-drafted Terms of Use.

But the larger issues here are free expression, censorship and First Amendment rights, coupled with changes to Internet protocols that are geek to most of us but, in fact, are at the very heart of our identity on the World Wide Web.

SOPA started out as a way to protect intellectual property and the financial and economic juggernaut that goes along with it. In defiance of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, there’s an evil empire of black-arts practitioners preying on American companies, especially those in Hollywood. Many of these thieves are located in foreign countries — well beyond the reach of U.S. copyright law enforcement.

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and a bipartisan group of co-sponsors, proposed a bill to allow the Justice Department and copyright holders to strike back at Web sites that are even unwittingly connected to the offending source. Somebody’s got to pay if the overseas bills are ignored, right?

Once notified, targeted sites would have five days — 120 hours — to submit an appeal. Under the legislation, if the response is unsatisfactory, the federal government is authorized to:

» Cut off the sites from search engines like Google and Yahoo!

» Require Internet service providers like Cox, Impulse and Verizon to block their customers from accessing the sites

» Bar the sites from interacting with their advertisers and ad networks like Google AdSense

» Prohibit the sites from using payment providers like PayPal

How long can a Web site last with no traffic and no revenue? I know that answer, and it’s not one I wish to contemplate.

But enough about Noozhawk. What’s in it for you?

» Censorship. The legislation allows for the blocking of entire Web sites for “promoting” copyright infringement, even if it’s through something as insignificant as a link in a user comment on a story. The death penalty apparently is administered regardless of the presence of constitutionally protected and clearly non-infringing speech like ads, commentary and search results.

“The First Amendment requires that the government proceed with a scalpel — by prosecuting those who break the law — rather than with the sledgehammer approach of SOPA, which would silence speech across the board,” Harvard constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe wrote in opposing the bill.

Maybe you use email, Craigslist, eBay, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Vimeo. I know you would never, ever link to or forward something whose provenance you weren’t 100 percent sure of; it’s your brother-in-law who does that.

But with hundreds of millions of users of their services, do you think those companies will trust you if their bottoms are on the line? In all likelihood, they’ll begin monitoring and/or restricting everything you do to prevent the possibility of being sued over copyright infringement or liability for criminal charges.

» Disruption. Every computer on the Internet is identified by a complicated string of unique numbers, but the Domain Name System registry converts the numbers into more recognizable and memorable Web site domains, like Noozhawk.com. SOPA contains a controversial filtering mandate that would allow editing of the DNS, however.

How is that harmful? Engineers have been developing a new DNS protocol to combat the increasingly common hijacking of a user’s browsing command that redirects the user to a phony Web site with the DNS of a trusted domain. What’s more, the Internet is inherently decentralized, which makes it an environment conducive to coders intent on writing their way around the roadblocks so those black-listed foreign Web sites can still be reached.

Fulfilling the law of unintended consequences, SOPA’s filtering requirements would torpedo the new authentication process while doing nothing to alleviate Web security risks.

» Expense. The increased monitoring and analysis that SOPA requires will pose a significant financial burden, with a negative toll on Internet innovation and investment. You’ll pay for that now as well as later.

The escalating risk will most certainly mean fewer Internet startups and less Web development. Don’t get too comfortable using tools like Dropbox, Flickr, Scribd, Shutterfly or Storify. Or resources like Flipboard, Google Docs, Wikipedia and WordPress. Or try to get your head around the concept of cloud computing.

So, what can you do? It’s all about Congress at this point. Join me in contacting our three elected representatives — Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, and Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. — and asking them to help us defeat this ridiculous legislation.

You should also contact Smith and the House Judiciary Committee, which is to resume deliberations on SOPA (H.R. 3261) in January.

I can think of 50 things that Congress and the Obama administration could do today to clear the path for economic growth in this chronic recession. “Fixing” the Internet isn’t one of them.

Click here for more information on SOPA from the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, whose mission is to defend free speech, privacy, innovation and consumer rights in the digital world.

Bill Macfadyen is the publisher and founder of Noozhawk.


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9 Comments

  1. oto says:

    And speaking of “political prostitution”, Russ J, after learning that Mitt Romney won the New Hamshire Republican Primary election today (okay, so I’m a little behind in my comments on this article and today is Jan. 12, 2012,) I have watched a number of the debates and think the two most informative debates so far have been the Oct 11, 2011 “Tea Party” debate and the debate held at Dartmouth College around Oct. 12, 2011, that was a Round Table mediated by Charlie Rose.

    What especially interested me was Romney’s tone and demeanor responding to the young female moderator, compared to how he responded to others at the table. There was a very marked, yet subtle undercurrent that revealed more about him than he would have liked to let on.

    Everyone at the table was talking about jobs and the economy, and what their plans were in this area. When Romney talks, he speaks in generalizations. Cain got down to specifics, but that leaves him open to criticism.

    Huntsman has the background in international politics and trade to talk about how to compete with the Chinese without brainwashing everyone by shouting, “it’s a trade war!” I like his message:

    It’s time to trade a little chest-thumping for better negotiating skills on the field of international trade.

    (-3) 3 Total Votes - 0 up - 3 down
  2. oto says:

    If I had to rely on the local news to learn about where my country stands in the eyes of the world, and how my country’s policies are affecting the world, for good or ill, I would know nothing. But fortunately, we live in a country where to know what our country is doing, is our most basic right. The goal of the Internet is to communicate, and thanks to our Constitution, and the laws which uphold it, I can go to other sources for news and information. This is my duty as an American citizen, and knowledge is what keeps our country strong:

    The following link is how other reputable news sources consider the most important stories of 2011.
    Happy New Year, and keep the faith:Youtube

    (1) 3 Total Votes - 2 up - 1 down
  3. mkaney says:

    Intellectual property is a scam. It does not encourage innovation. Information should be freely available. That doesn’t mean you should be able to make money off of someone else’s work, but you should have access to it. Prior to the recording industry, musicians made their money the same way they do now, off of live performances. Most musicians make nothing from a record. Is what I am proposing totally fair? Of course not. However, we stand to have a far better outcome with information being free than the consequences of losing multimilllion dollar motion pictures.

    What they are proposing is no different than teaching only priests to read, as the church used to do. For example, it means that some kid who has no money will never be able to play around with Microsoft Excel and learn useful skills, while a kid with money has access to the tool.. It means that people who buy the fruits of others’ labor will be able to continuously make money off of it, while those who created it get paid one time.

    (-2) 2 Total Votes - 0 up - 2 down
  4. oto says:

    Hey, Bill!
    Are CCC blogs copyrighted? Are the articles on CCC copyrighted?
    Hey, Santa! Is there a paycheck in my Christmas stocking for all my work?
    Who pays for this site, anyway?

    (-3) 9 Total Votes - 3 up - 6 down
    • Typoqueen says:

      CCC blogs? Did you notice the advertisements around the articles? Plus I believe that they take donations from some of the readers.

      (3) 5 Total Votes - 4 up - 1 down
    • r0y says:

      Well, $10 a month is from me… a drop in the bucket, but a drop is better than not!

      (2) 2 Total Votes - 2 up - 0 down
  5. bobfromsanluis says:

    This attempt at “fixing” the internet by a Republican Representative, Lamar Smith of Texas, should help remind everyone that usually when a Republican lawmaker starts making noise about “reforming” or “fixing” a problem, they usually are attempting to destroy that program or law or policy, or rigging it somehow for a rich donor or two. I will admit that occasionally the destruction is not fully intentional, it just seems to work out that way all too often. Don’t you wonder how much of what the legislation will do Rep. Smith even understands? It could be a case of “unintended consequences”, but most likely Rep. Smith has someone pulling some very costly strings to get this legislation rammed down our throats.

    (-1) 11 Total Votes - 5 up - 6 down
    • r0y says:

      Yes, because only ONE party ever screws things up and rots anything they touch. Keep drinking.

      (2) 4 Total Votes - 3 up - 1 down
  6. Russ J says:

    The assumption is “we’re all a bunch of thieving pirates that won’t pay for songs and movies”. What a bunch of crap! It’s all about political prostitution and control of the web. The media elites aren’t wealthy enough? What a crappy idea SOPA is!

    WRITE TO YOUR LIBERAL BUDDIES THAT REPRESENT OUR STATE and tell them this is such a 1% idea that we all want to vomit! (Lamar Smith has his head in a very brown place)

    (12) 12 Total Votes - 12 up - 0 down

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