PROTECT IP is the Senate version of a bill currently before Congress designed ostensibly to protect American business from “rogue websites” that are devoted to the counterfeit and distribution of copyrighted materials. On its face, its not a bad idea. The internet, as with all new frontiers, continues to be a bit wild and wooly, and the best way to ensure that it endures is to to make certain that it is not obviously injurious to any particular (legitimate) party.
The wording of the bill is centered on sites that possess no other “significant value” besides copyright infringement. It requires a DoJ court order, tAttorney General notice to the site owner, (where possible) and when action is taken, it does not actually remove the offending site. This seems pretty good… until you look at what the bill demands in lieu of simply taking down an illegal website.
Instead of removal, PROTECT IP requires total electronic shunning. The bad site remains, but the rest of the internet must pretend as though it does not. While you would still be able to navigate directly to the site, all hyperlinks everywhere, all advertisements, and all search engine results which point to the site would be required to be eliminated. Apparently the Senate feels it is too difficult to control a few bad actors, and that it is easier to tell everyone else in the world what to do. Seen slightly differently, this bill represents the Senate throwing up their hands and admitting that they can’t control the few bad actors, and hopefully relying on the people they can control to simply ignore the problem.
Because that always works.
Opposition experts point out that the internet was created so that all domain servers worldwide would hold identical lists of domains, all of which constantly reference and update each other. Attempting to create an “american blacklist” of shunned sites would throw our servers out of synch with the rest of the world, with unpredictable results. (Potentially “breaking” the american internet.) Pro-bill experts say this is hogwash, no more true than all the Chicken Little alarmists who wailed about the dangers of default swapping. (Okay, they probably didn’t put it just like that… but they didn’t agree.)
The bill was introduced in May with eleven co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle. It is intended for passage before Christmas, although a previous version, COICA, was shot down last year.
Amusingly, there is already a Mozilla plugin designed to take users to shunned websites.
Next week I will discuss SOPA, the House version of this bill. It’s similar, but even crazier!