Saturday morning House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) announced that the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) will be put off indefinitely ‘until consensus is reached’. It is a victory for the bill’s opponents in the ongoing battle between the legislation and the internet.
[Edit: Witnessing a political flip-flop in real time SOPA is now back on the table. The bill's author Lamar Smith just announced that the SOPA markup is expected to continue next month. All the more reason to go on strike. And than some.]
SOPA was introduced in the US House of Representatives on October 26, 2011. A similar Senate version of the bill, the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), is currently going through the legislative process.
SOPA’s professed aim is to get a handle on foreign sites that provide pirated content or counterfeit goods. But the proposed means by which that goal is to be achieved are rather draconian. In order to keep these sites from operating the bill makes third party tech companies responsible for obliterating them from the internet.
The bill allows for copyright holders to send a court ordered notice to third parties to blacklist the alleged infringing site within 5 days. Payment processors and ad networks are than prohibited from doing business cutting off the site’s revenues. Search engines are compelled to remove the sites from their search results and ISP’s must block access to the site by DNS filtering.
It would make tech companies responsible for policing the internet which is ironic because many of them have built their business model if not their philosophy on the free flow of information. Should SOPA (or PIPA) pass they are compelled to rig up an infrastructure that cripples that core feature of the internet.
The Hollywood-backed bill caused an uproar amongst the internet community which organized petitions, walkouts and announced an internet blackout to raise awareness about what the net would look like if SOPA would become law.
And Washington listened.
On Friday 13th the author of the bill Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) announced he would drop one of the most hated portions of SOPA: DNS filtering. The Domain Name System filtering provision is what earned the bill its name as internet wrecker because it would force DNS operators to interfere
with one of the a handful of protocols that that are the core upon which the Internet is built.
On Saturday the Obama administration spoke out against SOPA on the White House blog stating that ‘we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.’
Several hours later Issa announced the bill was shelved.
The indefinite postponement of the bill is a big win for the Stop SOPA movement. But the fight against the crippling of the internet is far from over. In the Senate the PIPA is still being processed.
Therefore January 18th, 2012 the internet will go on strike. Its first strike in history. Some sites like Reddit, Boing Boing and Wikepedia will go black others will come up with alternative ways to raise awareness. Sopastrike.com has a list of confirmed participants and a list of handy tools to join the strike.
Because there is a lot to worry about. The current interpretation of copyright infringement used by the US Department of Justice is ‘having a link on a web page to another site that turns out to be infringing’ any site allowing user generated content is vulnerable to these kinds of take-down notices. Site owners would have to monitor all contributions for copyright infringement. For sites like Facebook and Twitter this would mean checking millions upon millions of links and uploads.
Free speech advocates worry that as a result of this bill a system of censorship is put in place comparable to the Great Firewall of China. Because all traffic needs to be monitored and the tools are in place to block sites. Today it’s piracy but what will it be tomorrow?
In a letter to the US Congress signed by 110 law professors concern is expressed that the bill is unconstitutional because it allows for speech to be suppressed prior to a ruling by a judge that the expression is unlawful.
Furthermore they state that it would violate ‘our core tenets of due process. By failing to guarantee the challenged web sites notice or an opportunity to be heard in court before their sites are shut down, SOPA represents the most ill-advised and destructive intellectual property legislation in recent memory.’
As soon as the bill was introduced the internet community started organizing themselves against the bill. In December a number of famous tech execs amongst whom the founders of Paypal, Google and Twitter published an Open Letter to Washington in several national newspapers stating they understood the need to curb piracy but that SOPA would mean the end of the internet as we know it.
Redditors of the social forum Reddit started a number of actions such as the coordinated walkout on domain registrar GoDaddy for its support for the legislation.
Another initiative coming out of Reddit is Darknetplan where people work together to create a global darknet, a decentralized network consisting of mesh networks. So that, would the internet indeed be censured, an alternative independent network would rise up beside it.
Next up is the Strike.
[EDIT] Only moments after completing this post the bad news came that SOPA isn’t shelved at all as Torrentfreak writes:
Wishful thinking, because today SOPA is back in full force.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith just announced that the SOPA markup is expected to continue next month.
“To enact legislation that protects consumers, businesses and jobs from foreign thieves who steal America’s intellectual property, we will continue to bring together industry representatives and Members to find ways to combat online piracy,” Chairman Smith said.
“Due to the Republican and Democratic retreats taking place over the next two weeks, markup of the Stop Online Piracy Act is expected to resume in February.
“I am committed to continuing to work with my colleagues in the House and Senate to send a bipartisan bill to the White House that saves American jobs and protects intellectual property.”
Starting to look like this battle is going to need more than a strike.