Written by: Alexis Poole
Bill H.R. 3261 (SOPA) and Senate Bill 968 (PIPA) both aim to “protect intellectual property of content creators” and “create American jobs” by cracking down on Internet piracy. It actually reads like a horribly invasive bill that seeks to strike out Internet-based companies, put thousands of jobs in jeopardy and infringe upon the privacy of anyone who uses the Internet.
Provisions under SOPA would allow judges to order ISPs to block access to websites that infringe on copyright law. Now, that sounds good and even makes sense at face value until we investigate what it takes to block a website. That order to block a website also allows them to check IP addresses of customers who visit that website. This is called IP-blocking and is a highly invasive process that would monitor users’ web traffic. So from Google to Facebook to Twitter to other “questionable” sites we may visit, the government would watch and track it all, like some peeping tom peering into your house to watch you pee.
Now, replace that peeping tom with members of the military. That’s my guess as to who these purported American jobs will go to. SOPA claims that it will protect against copyright infringement by law enforcement. I’d bet that those enforcers would need security clearance in order to even be interviewed for a job that would include daily surveillance of people’s private information. I know I don’t have any such clearance and I’d be willing to bet that the majority of current job seekers don’t either. Politicians like to throw catch phrases like that on the first page of bills because they know it’s more likely to garner votes from members of the House and Senate seeking brownie points come re-election time. That way, they can subtly remind everyone that they voted FOR American jobs.
What IS it with the undying love of extra-long acronyms for the names of these bills? We already have the USA PATRIOT Act, otherwise known as Uniting (and) Strengthening America (by) Providing Appropriate Tools Required (to) Intercept (and) Obstruct Terrorism. Now there’s SOPA, which stands for Stop Online Piracy Act. Additionally, there’s PIPA, an acronym with a double meaning. It stands for Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property. Read more commonly as “Protect IP Act,” the bill’s title seems to indicate that it will somehow protect IP addresses. These acronyms hide their bills’ true equal and opposite intentions. For example, the PATRIOT Act claimed that it would unite America when all it really did was tap our phone lines. SOPA and PIPA similarly propose to protect the rights of artists and maintain that the Internet won’t be affected but the bill reads like it’ll knowingly violate major privacy rights and cripple a booming Internet industry in one fell swoop.
Hypothetically, let’s say that SOPA/PIPA created 100,000 jobs…for the military, since they have the security clearance. That sounds great! At least that’s 100,000 jobs not going overseas, right? Sure, but think about the hundreds of American software companies, domain name system servers, entrepreneurs, and freelancers it would put out of work for even one small infringement. SOPA claims it wouldn’t attack entire DNS servers, just the subdomains that infringe on copyright law. They would do this by requiring DNS servers to stop linking requests for a webpage to the IP address requesting it. Domain Name System servers by design deal with request failures by finding other servers that can and will grant the original request’s wish, even if they have to go overseas to do it. Requiring servers to stop referring these requests to other servers directly affects the integrity of the DNS system as a whole. Since this hole in the proposal was pointed out, this and other DNS-related provisions have been removed from SOPA as of January 12, 2012. But SOPA/PIPA is a butt that just won’t quit.
Opposers of SOPA/PIPA are really concerned with the biggies: the First Amendment, privacy and legal liability for websites where users can upload illegal content. YouTube comes to mind. Let’s say I can’t understand the lyrics of a song. I go to YouTube, type in “lyrics to [popular song] by [popular artist]” and listen to a user-uploaded copy of the song and a cheesy Powerpoint-style presentation of the lyrics. With a room full of the military’s finest following me from webpage to webpage, they can hold me liable for accessing the copyrighted content, hold the original poster liable for uploading it and essentially sue YouTube for allowing it to be uploaded in the first place. Supporters of SOPA maintain that websites like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have nothing to fear, but why shouldn’t they when the responsibility for policing infringement falls on the website itself? No wonder businesses look overseas to invest where laws like this are more lax.
Many of those who oppose SOPA/PIPA also have signed petitions asking Google to leave the Chamber of Commerce like Yahoo has already done. So far, SOPA/PIPA have been tabled for more time to review and resolve these and other issues. Many more wants to see this bill eliminated than those who want it passed. Just mentioning SOPA and PIPA sends shivers down the spines of all who value privacy and freedom from censorship.