Described as “watching a room full of grandparents argue over how to set the VCR,” the SOPA hearings (Stop Online Piracy Act) have been ongoing for the past two weeks. SOPA is the House version of the PROTECT IP bill before the Senate that we discussed just before Thanksgiving. It is similar to that bill, but like much about the House, is even more stupid.
While SOPA repeats the worst parts of PROTECT IP, the idea of barring all search engine results and links to specific, offending websites instead of simply taking them down, it also makes it easier for theoretically harmed parties to have sites blacklisted, harder for blacklisted sites to respond, and offers no protections for sites that do successfully respond to have their prior status reinstated. It also increases the penalty for streaming unauthorized content, making it a felony, and removing DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) protections from sites like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. These sites currently remove content that is reported as copyright infringement. Under SOPA, these entire sites would be guilty of criminal activity, and blacklisted.
But that’s not the best part.
What is being discussed is the blocking of domains from the domain name servers within the US. When you type an address into your browser, that first hits a domain server, (DNS) which turns the request into an IP address and turns you over to the appropriate server, which then routes your request to the proper page. It was exactly this type of censorship scheme that briefly caused China and Pakistan’s DNSs to globally shut off Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and other sites in March 2010, and 2008, respectively.
But that’s not the best part either.
DNS providers are already announcing their intention to close up shop and relocate elsewhere, say, the Caymans, in order to quickly and inexpensively flout SOPA. Other offshore DNS providers already offer encrypted links designed to provide service to the populations of the fifteen countries currently censoring their internet, and just this month Ars Technica reported a new anonymous top-level domain that failed to correspond to any of the current protocols… a trend which, if it continues, could make SOPA obsolete before it even gets voted on.
Is this the best part yet?
Many businesses (like Microsoft and Diebold, to name two) currently employ the DMCA, a much less ambitious law, to sue whistleblowers for copyright infringement. They don’t win, but the defendants are generally financially ruined defending themselves. SOPA makes this type of action much easier. Let’s say that one of the readers of this website decided to complain about his job in the comments below, and it got back to where he worked. Under SOPA, I would have to prove (after the site had been removed from all US web servers) that nothing that someone else had commented was infringing on anyone else’s intellectual property. (Never mind the pop culture references spread throughout the comic and blog.) And if I were able to do that, there is no provision obligating the DNS providers to remove me from the blacklist. Remember… they can be held criminally liable for everything on the internet as well if they don’t keep on top of the government’s banned lists.
The best part.
By which I mean the worst. Never mind that businesses will use SOPA as a cudgel to thwack opinions they don’t like and information they’d rather you didn’t have. Never mind that this will do zip to stop internet piracy, when a banned site can have a new domain in a matter of minutes. And never mind that if you already have a site set in your favorites, or you simply know the address, or someone hyperlinks the IP address instead of the domain name… all of this instantly becomes useless. The critical point of this bill is that it attempts to forestall the economic progress and success of the United States. Throughout our history, different sectors of the economy have risen and fallen, farming giving way to mining giving way to manufacturing giving way to infrastructure giving way to services… and all of it coal in our economic engines. It is a natural process that as one sector falters, another steps in to replace it. SOPA is an effort to save dinosaurs at the expense of the mammals. But it can’t. The dinosaurs are going to die anyway, that’s simply the nature of things. SOPA can chill the fire of progress here, giving up America’s place in the world, but the mammals will only take up residence somewhere else.
I hear the weather is pretty great in the Caymans.