The Thursday Blog: Dude, You Broke My Internet Edition

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!

57 Responses to The Thursday Blog: Dude, You Broke My Internet Edition

  1. Yeah, I read about both bills. The monkey-spanking idiots that pass for representatives really shouldn’t be writing law about things they don’t understand. Unfortunately, that pretty much covers everything except which industries are feeding them the most bribes.

      • yeah, I can just see that blatherskite now, reading from a prepared script written by someone with half a clue, about how the internet is specifically designed to maintain connectivity to all nodes…because it started as a network to maintain connections between universities and the military in case of a nuclear war.

        In other words, it’s very nature is antithetical to any such protocol. Stupid Politicians.

  2. I am really frustrated with the political situation in most of the western world.

    Politicians are “experts” on getting elected. That’s their knowledge base. “Getting elected”, however, is a fairly tiny and kind of inconsequential area for legislation. It’s already been proven that the laws in place don’t prevent crooks from getting elected, after all.

    So basically we have a bunch of people making the laws that EVERYONE has to follow, on a bunch of stuff they don’t understand. Sure, a medical doctor can be a brilliant man and all, but you don’t go to him when your computer catches a virus. Why do politicians get to be the experts on everything? And, naturally, the political system’s far too entrenched to change it now.

    Anyway, I wish you Americans luck on your internet. North America’s been really dumb with this dangfangled new “internet” thing lately, hasn’t it?

  3. If people are dumb enough to buy cheap knock-offs and sweatshop labor goods, then they really can’t complain when the product is sub-standard. That shouldn’t be the government’s problem! American businessmen are supposed to be smart enough to deal with stuff like “competitors” themselves! That’s what they’re always telling us anyway. The ickky Gubbermint should keep it’s nose out of American business’ business- except when they need protection, less taxes, incentives to hire people, and no resrictions on outsourcing everything. I mean, heaven forbid you should buy an I-phone that was made in Pakistan instead of from approved manufacturers in China! The Senate MUST protect thier Chineese masters!

  4. This is a case where good intentions never solve anything. They want the Bill to protect legitimate companies going bank-rupt because of fake virtual companies under selling shit products. It is a really big issue because the general public buys what is cheapest instead of worrying about a genuine product. This costs people jobs, money, innovation.

    What is the point of investing millions of dollars for a product to solve a problem or enhance a lifestyle if some kid with a keyboard is just going to undercut your work for 50 bucks?

    Unfortunately you can’t do anything about this on the internet. A court order to Russia doesn’t do shit, you can’t sue them, you can’t claim insurance, you can’t take them to court. It is incredibly stressful for new businesses to compete. The cost to protect your product is immense and most small businesses cannot afford a service that is not %100.

    Congress is doing something, which is better than the nothing they normally do that does not directly impact them.
    We have such a shallow and negative viewpoint on Congress right now that I don’t think many people see past the “I am restricting you, I must control all” views to see that something has to happen, and some action although poor is always a step to better action down the road. We should be overjoyed that Congress is trying to come up with something to protect US businesses from fraud.

    • However, there are no “Good Intentions” here…this legislation is designed to give the politicians an excuse to shut down any website they want, using this “law” as a precedent. It’s the camel’s nose under the tent. Beware.

      • Well not really. My point is that Enforcement of the Internet stops at the US borders for Congress, so the thought that Congress can have control on the Internet is flawd, however a popular rant, so they can’t shut down anything in reality. Shutting down legitimate web-sites would only lead to mass message to Congress so their willingness to shut down a site would be very small to begin with without months of ‘research’ or whatever it is they do, that aspect isn’t reality. These fraud sites will also simply change their domain name and once again be reachable, they do this easily all the time.

        What is important is that Congress is taking action. What needs to happen now is for Businesses that do deal with internet security to help guide their actions. ESET has already written to Congress in an open letter, we just need more groups to do the same.

        I don’t expect This bill(s) to pass, but a new one with real world input will hopefully come out of it that does benefit everyone. Even if no bill ever actually passes it places more emphasis on the issue, which creates opportunities for people to work at a problem, means more jobs and progress.

        — of course if this bill does somehow manage to pass I’ll be crying and raging like the rest of the world.

    • The problem is that we’re dealing with companies trying to shore up a vanishing business model, and this is absolutely the wrong move.
      Back when the printing press was first invented the Catholic Church didn’t like it because it made it possible for people to get books which weren’t directly written by trained monks and approved of by the Catholic Church. The Church was hotly against The Bible being translated into languages other than Latin and for good reason, access to the contents of The Bible was dangerous because it could lead people to read things in that book which were contradicted by current practice of the church. Naturally they tried to ban the printing press, but it didn’t work so well. Heretics kept popping up everywhere making prints of this, that and the other thing. It’s just the nature of the printing press to make many copies of whatever book you set up to press to print.
      Fast forward, computers and the internet together have combined to make copying data incredibly cheap. Like transfer of gigabytes of data is done every day by people jut to play games let aloe copying those games themselves. Against this fact that copying of digital data has become undeniably cheap we have the RIAA and other people with business models that depend on copying not being cheap. It won’t last.

      The genie is out of the bottle, copying data is now cheap. Proper business models for this time and environment involve sales of services and physical products, not selling copies of digital data.

      • Yep.

        Some companies are making money hand over fist because they figured this out. Why doesn’t everyone just copy THE COMPANIES MAKING SO MUCH MONEY?

        • Because music industry companies are addicted to the idea of pressing CDs for less than a nickel each, packaging them for another quarter along with printed insert and selling them for 10-50 bucks a pop. Hollywood types think similarly. “We shall just print up CDs and put them in all the stores and this will make us rich,” is something that used to work just fine for them years ago when it was records and we didn’t have computers and consumer-access internet to let us download images of LPs to play on our home computers. It’s the consumerist-product version of old men on porches yelling about kids and their long hair failing to accept that they don’t control the world and they shouldn’t either (nobody should except by explicitly limited agreement of the controlled).
          They don’t want things to change, they don’t like that they have changed, and they are arrogant and ignorant enough to try to force the world to pretend that it hasn’t changed for their benefit. Heck, even Microsoft can’t wrap its head around the fact that it is really selling the service of inventing and maintaining software instead of trying to sell those same thirty-cent CDs (DVDs now). Microsoft is a company that is less than forty years old and the consumer internet has been around for easily half its lifespan. Successful recording industry companies are often much older and much more resistant to change.

          • Oh, also: Competition. If everybody went and started their own competitor to Google most of them would fall flat on their asses.
            This doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t be trying to do something useful instead of manufacturing yet more sexualized little girls who can’t sing as music industry products.

  5. Competitors do not equal thieves and imitators. Corralling thieves does not equal censorship. (And I can’t use ‘less than’ followed by ‘greater than’ to symbolize not equal. Darnit.)
    Am I wrong or are the central superservers that enable the whole Internet not still in US territory and subject to US laws? Seems like I hear Europeans especially complaining about that every now and then.
    Given that, there are a number of things that Washington COULD do that WOULD be effective — as this measure obviously would not. (And the fact that at least one countermeasure already exists surprises me not at all.)
    Most of them would create an expansion of federal power that COULD be used to suppress honest competition or for censorship, however. Catch-22.

      • I will quite seriously argue it. There should be no protection for businesses that would like to pretend the internet doesn’t exist. If your business model depends on private citizens not using the internet for its intended purpose of sharing information you need to get a new business model.

        • Intellectual property should not cease to exist just because it’s easy to steal… at least not until we devise a way to do away with money and allow all people to enjoy the fruits of our collective efforts equally. And that seems unlikely.

          • I’m not saying that we should abolish private property yet or the idea of people getting paid for intellectual work. I am saying that pretending that the internet hasn’t reduced the price digital products to pretty much nothing is silly. It’s already the case that musicians basically don’t get paid for record sales and earn their money a little bit from merchandise and mostly from concerts. I say that is the future and it’s already here.

            • “It’s already the case that musicians basically don’t get paid for record sales and earn their money a little bit from merchandise and mostly from concerts. I say that is the future and it’s already here.”

              Except that the reason for that isn’t “illegal downloaders” but the record companies themselves. Why do you tihnk so many musicians are already voting out of that system and selling their music via the Web?

              • I guess thank you for explaining one of the background items within my point?

                If you were trying to say instead that we should legally support direct online sales of digital media controlled by interests closer to (or at least less hostile to) the originating artists themselves then… I disagree.

  6. Man that is a stupid law. But wait u mean there’s gonna be black underbelly to the internet… a SECRET internet… just like in William Gibson? Cause I been looking for that ever since I got a modem in 1990 and I gotta tell everyone… go outside. There’s child molesters selling crack out there. They work for the cops. Who are owned by weird corporate pedophiles. You might wanna just look outside for a minute that’s all I’m saying.

    • Well ideally you would want to tackle ALL lawlessness, not just the items you think are worst. We have laws now against pedophiles and crack dealers. While there may be enforcement issues, from a legislative point of view the issue has already been addressed. The point of this is that the tech has outstripped the law, and new legislation needs to be put into place to cope. (It’s just that it is currently really STUPID legislation.)

      • Secret Internet already exists… has for a long time now. One version is called Freenet
        Widley known to be home to mass pedophiles and other such non ethical / illegal trade.
        I am sure there are many possitive things about it, but it uses a portion of your hard-drive on your computer plus your internet bandwidth to create a complex peer to peer server system. The whole thing is encrypted so you don’t know what is being stored on your system.

        The idea is great but unfortunately people use it, so you can imagine what goes on in an environment where it is extremely difficult to track you, identify you, and hold someone accountable. Nice place if you don’t want anyone to know what your doing though.

      • See, I’ll agree that there needs to be law about it, but I completely disagree with what seems to be your interpretation of what needs legal protection.
        For starters we need to prevent companies from releasing copyrighted works with DRM entanglement in it; right now this kind of things prevents archivists and people who make versions for the ability impaired (blind, deaf, or other) to perform their duly recognized and intended functions in society. We also need to launch anti-trust suits against everyone trying to enforce monopoly privileges on patented or copyright works; those are monopolies by definition so therefore they should be easily prosecuted.

        I don’t expect the US Congress to bite the RIAA lobbyists’ hands while they’re feeding them large bribes. I am going to say that if your product and/or service sucks so much that some kid with a Russian webserver can eat your lunch then your product and/or service sucks.

  7. “the House version of this bill” – I didn’t know that Gregory House has started making legislation…

  8. The point is that laws exist in the USA and other countries that allow people to use parts “copyrighted content” (be it music, video, paintings, art, or texts), in connection with movie reviews, parodies, artwork like collages, fan-music- videos, fanfilms and similar. On the basic that you may need to quote from a novel that you are reviewing, and you can’t discuss a painting without showing it. This bill would open the gate to killing all that. I looked at the wording of that SOPA bill, and man is it held vague. And the next step is blocking any content that someone somewhere might find “objectionable” (i.e. someone critizising religion, or pictures of nakedness and men kissing). Sites like YouTube already prefer not to spend time and money on the hassle of checking everything that someone has flagged as “objectionable content”, they just delete it.

    • If I had to guess about it then the RIAA is playing a very cynical double game here.
      The RIAA actually has an okay average at getting stupid things they want passed to actually pass. So there is probably a good part of their plan dedicated to trying to make this fly and maybe hammer down the judges who might question the RIAA lawsuit bullshit that’s going on in the US by sending a clear message that this kind of thing is what gets passed as the law of the land. They don’t really know how to compete against people who don’t actually need millions of dollars to survive and this would be a tool in their arsenal for threatening everybody they don’t like. Yeah, it costs them bribing every politician into at least checking to see if their re-election chances would survive supporting it, but that’s cheap enough when you’re that rich.
      So yes, if they can get it passed that would be the first half of the cynical double game. That said, their previously attempted legislative over-reach has had mixed results in terms of getting passed in the first place and then further less than perfect results once it was passed at achieving their apparent goal of ending digital music copyright infringement. (HA!) So there is a second side to it which is that it will distract people trying to fight the DMCA and fight back against the other total bullshit they’ve bribed the politicians into passing for them. It’s a huge thing that the EFF and other people keep sending lawyers after their laws trying to break them, they have many open challenges up to the various courts including the supreme court. Each time these folks win they chip away at the RIAA’s power and a very cynical way of countering that is to tie up the opposition fighting bills that they don’t really expect to pass anyway.

  9. Quoted from PROTECT IP Act Breaks The Internet:

    “Since we made this video, the PROTECT IP bill has gotten much worse and is set up for quick passage.

    “Now the government and corporations could block any site, foreign or domestic, just for one infringing link. Sites like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook would have to censor their users or get shut down since they become liable for everything users post.

    “And ordinary users could go to jail for five years fpr posting any copyrighted work – even just singing a pop song.”

    • I can readily believe that self-censorship through fear is one of the goals of this bill. And that its vague wording can be used to criminalize about anything.

      Don’t believe me? I remember, some years back, in Germany, a news article about how the GEMA (German equivalent of the RIIA) tried to get a bill passed that would allow it to sue private people, private bands, music festivals, weddings, church choirs, and community centers including kindergardens and schools, for singing or playing “copyrighted pop-songs” and even traditional folk music in public or at semi-public gatherings, if a record company in Germany held the rights to a recording of a song in question. Not merely if they recorded it and sold it for money or posted it on YouTube[*] … just for singing that song. Fortunately, the absurdity of that bill was so apparent, it didn’t pass.

      [*] (Something that isn’t even illegal under German law because you hold the copyright for any artistic expression you make. The artist holds the rights for THEIR interpretation of a piece of music, NOT for each and all instances and variations of that song ever played. And no-one can hold the rights to the works of Mozart or a traditional folk song as they are common domain. You can only copyright, say, the recording of a specific orchestry playing Mozart.)