The Thursday Blog: Don’t Bend Over for the SOPA Edition

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.

32 Responses to The Thursday Blog: Don’t Bend Over for the SOPA Edition

  1. “The critical point of this bill is that it attempts to forestall the economic progress and success of the United States.” – And this is a surprise with Democrats still (barely) in charge how? That’s their party platform, for cryin’ out loud!

    • Erm—the House bill is worse, as Kevin correctly pointed out, and the House of Representatives is entirely under Republican control. The GOP is not the lesser of two evils here.

      • Yes, it is important to point out that this is one of the many cases where the Republican/Democrat divide is revealed to be a Coke/Pepsi type choice: Both are overly carbonated water overloaded with sugar and chemicals you should not drink. The right choice is not Coke, it is not Pepsi, it is neither. So too with Democrats and Republicans.
        If you pay more attention you recognize that abortion and gay rights have been used as a circus in America to draw people’s attention over the last thirty years while corrupt people were basically behaving like crowbar-wielding looters with the laws and budgets of the American government.

        • But, but, POLITICAL AGENDAS need to be swung about! How can I prove that I’m not only correct, but a martyr, if the topic at hand doesn’t fit into this incredibly narrow argument!?

          Also: SOPA gets through, and the USA has doomed itself. So many of the actually growing industries (ie, internet-based) will just go “eh, screw it, it is” and then BAM. The USA’s left with banks, food production, and, um… Cigarettes and awful beer? We all know that banking has its ups and downs, food is an industry that doesn’t scale well, cigarettes are dying, and booze is only a valuable industry if you have people who can afford booze. Good bye last few straws for international relevancy – Hollywood will be the only thing the USA’s known for.

          Basically, the rest of the world will give the USA the “wth” look, shrug, and move on. Except for the USA’s lackeys who will stick around and tell the USA that no, he really is the cool and sensible and intelligent and worthy one.*

          *This may include Canada. GO AWAY FOREVER, HARPER. Seriously.

          • Harper has big oil money Alberta and fundamentalist-crazy religious types everywhere firmly in his pocket. After the Liberal meltdown in the face of aggressive use of campaign ads on all sides and Jack Layton being more of a dick than the NDP traditionally is he basically doesn’t have opposition: The NDP got so many votes because the BQ fell apart too in the last election.
            In Canada political parties defeat themselves, with the help of other people. You want him gone? Pay more attention to the atmospheric carbon estimates and the pipeline plans regarding the oilsands. If enough people know that extracting the oilsands means at least a couple feet higher sea levels and that this actually means something they have to give a shit about he might not carry so far.

            • I live in Alberta. Trust me, I know.

              I don’t know ANYONE who actually thinks Harper’s ever done a good job (I only know one person who ever voted PC and she was kind of… yeahhhh… “putting all of Alberta’s economic eggs in the same basket is a GOOD idea!”). Somehow, though, PCs still won ~77% of this riding. Wth, guys?

              Secondly, my area is in the middle of a decades-long brain drain. I’m pretty sure the provincial PC gov’t figured out that educated people vote for them less on average, and so they’ve consistently enacted legislation to thwart education in the area. My college has tried to push forwards to become a genuine degree-granting institution more than once, and every time the government suddenly changes something-or-another and makes said college’s proposed changes impossible or illegal in some way. It’s currently doing collaborative degrees with UoC instead (which is why I’m technically a UoC student despite not living in Calgary) so that there’s at least SOME options, but only 3 degrees are available here.

              As you can guess, then, a lot of smart people leave. Immediately. And the PCs retain their power. The whole “brain drain” thing was brought up at a provincial hearing once, and the answer was frightening. “We don’t feel that Central Alberta should focus on degrees at this time. Next question.” Yeah – that was it. That was it. I don’t usually feel like a conspiracy nutjob, but this little thing they’ve got going on…

              • I’m so sorry, but what can I do?
                For myself, I’m in the city Canada hates. I’ve learned long ago most people in the country hate us and don’t even want to listen to us mumble bitterly about our problems because our obnoxious rich people are responsible for up to half the problems where they live.

        • Couldn’t agree more. Fortunately, in most of the US (outside of here in Oklahoma) there are plenty of third parties to campaign for and vote for. Sure, they hardly ever win the election. Their purpose in our current system is to tell Coke and Pepsi that other flavors are gaining popularity, and maybe they should change their recipe a bit. But DON’T NOT VOTE when you get the chance. If you don’t, you consent to the current people in power, and they don’t see you as a factor, positive or negative, in their retention of that power.

      • No it isn’t…There are enough RINOs in there (Stands for “Republican In Name Only”) that the Democrats can still ram crap like this through.

        This isn’t about piracy…it’s about big government having the ability to shut down sites that disagree with their agenda.

        • Interesting. The bill’s author is apparently Bob Goodlatte, R-VA. According to Wikipedia, he has “been named a cyber champion by the Business Software Alliance”, “a 100% lifetime rating on the Information Technology Industry Council’s Congressional High-Tech scorecard”, and “also been named the most Internet-friendly Member of the House of Representatives by Yahoo! Internet Life”. I don’t know squat about those organizations. And I haven’t found out who the “co-sponsors” are.
          Goodlatte (who I assume likes yuppie coffee) supports a balanced-budget amendment, co-signed a measure that would require presidential candidates to disclose their birth certificates, suppports right-to-life, and supported the Homeland Security Act. Hardly seems like a RiNO. (Do people say DiNO for Blue Dog Democrats?) Of course, he is a lawyer born in (gasp) Massachussetts.

          • Because Wikipedia is a completely unbiased source, and can’t be edited at will by democrats.

            (Homer Simpson voice) In case you can’t tell, I was being sarcastic.

            • So check other sources, shit. Yes, the Democrats are shills for their lobbyists. This is undeniable without involving embarrassing amounts of duplicity.
              Also: The Republicans are shills for their lobbyists. This is also undeniable without involving embarrassing amounts of duplicity.
              The problem is that the politicians were never a particularly altruistic and intelligent bunch to begin with in any society and they’ve been further corrupted by their ability to sell themselves as different things to different people using rallies, TV-soundbite quotes, lobbyist relationships and so forth. The removal of all limits to campaign funding sources means that they can’t be caught in bed with the tobacco lobby, or the insurance lobby, or the gun lobby, or the televangelist lobby, or the drug lobby or anything since it’s all legal. Consequently the politicians do things for people who pay them, like the twenty four sponsors of SOPA who aren’t doing it for free.

              Stop believing in Coke Versus Pepsi, it’s a lie.

              • Could have. I’m at work and stealing time from the company as is. There’s usually a whole slew of source references at the end of every Wikipedia article. Often the links alone can tell you if the article is biased, and this particular article has enough links in it to make me think it is probably factual. And I just didn’t want to take the time to figure out if those organizations were what their names said they were or not, or to wade through all the myriad search-engine drivel about SOPA — most of which is dead-set against it whether the blogger or reporter is a leftie or a rightie.
                Rule still applies. If your congressman votes for it, and you hate it, vote for his opponent, tell all your friends to do the same, write a letter to every newspaper in the district telling everyone else why they should do the same. If he has more than one opponent, make a rational choice between the one most acceptable and the one most likely to win. Silence Means Consent.

              • I’m a Libretarian…I belive that the government that governs least governs best. So you could say in the big Coke VS Pepsi war, I’m rooting for Root Beer.

                Unfortunately, a third party candidate would just guarantee that the worst of the two major party candidates would win, since the 3rd party guy always siphons votes away from the more sensible side, since the Bad Candidates still get their whackaloon base (Witness Ross Perot.)

                • See, this is the specific error you’re making:
                  “the worst of the two major party candidates”
                  The worst is the one that gets elected, no exceptions.

                  • Well the point is, until the Democrats and Republicans are completely disbanded, a third party doesn’t stand a chance, and it’s the independant/on the fence voters that vote for third parties, who are the “Swing votes” that tip the balance in elections.

  2. I didn’t know the Internetz was Democrat?

    It would be particularly interesting to see the Government tell Facebook and Google that they need to shut down. I highly highly doubt this will pass, but if it does I wonder if it is going to be a demonstration of power without actually doing anything. What I mean is they have a Big Stick but all the targets are the size of gnats, they will wave it around but not really hit anything.

    I will see you on deepnet Kevin?

    • This is politicians paid a lot of money to pass shit for the MPAA and RIAA and paid more money not to ask any geeks about it. Will it pass? I don’t know, but SOPA has a lot of sponsors.
      I don’t know if they want a way to shut Google down or not, I think that the people buying this show don’t even know what they’re against well enough to come up with a sane plan to deal with it. This is their insane plan: Invent the biggest stick of all to try and hit people big enough to set an example to the rest and force self-censorship on everyone else by default for fear of the stick.

      • Even the sponsors of the bill are starting to have second thoughts, given the composition of the sides. On the one hand is Hollywood, the music industry, and drug manufacturers, and on the other hand is pretty much everyone else. (Especially every expert on the structure of the internet who are ubiquitously telling them that this is a stupid, stupid way to do this.) Congressman after congressman has gotten up to the lectern, had their say, and then finished with some variation of, “Of course I don’t really know how this all works…”

        BTW, while this is undeniably a bipartisan bill, in is written and dominated by Republicans. I don’t think this actually reflects anything more than the makeup of the House, but to call this a Democratic plot is just kind of a joke. This is entirely a political plot to gather campaign contributions from big spenders, party is entirely irrelevant.

  3. So, best case scenario, the bill passes, and the US economy pretty much crumbles overnight. I move to Israel and acquire my Israeli citizenship, serve in their army for the mandatory 4 years, and laugh while the US burns and – apparently intentionally – puts China in the position of Most Powerful Bully On The Block. Wonderful.

    Worst case, they find an even stupider way to appease their campaign contributors, and we all die.

    Yay!

    • My guess is that they walk away from this bill, and actually take some industry people onboard to figure out how to do it better.This is currently a mostly reactionary stance.

      • The problem is there is no “it” to do better.
        The fundamental conflict is about the fact that computers and the internet have lowered the cost of making copies of anything in the shape of digital data to an infinitesimal amount and these people still want to charge X dollars per copy. The per copy part no longer works.

        • I disagree. Perhaps what needs to be done is to create a paradigmatic shift in the way we monetize intellectual property, but today’s model is very, very flawed. Something needs to be fixed, whether or not that thing is what we are currently thinking it is.

          • That I’ll agree with, but they’re seeking to reinforce the expired model of charge per copy which works for commodities in which copies have tangible/durable cost and value like printed books.

          • The real problem in the current model is that, despite claims to the contrary, it does not reward the originators of the “intellectual property”, but rather the disseminators.