Back in December, after I got back from New Zealand, I was off work for a week recovering from a medical procedure. As I was browsing through my antispam RSS feeds, I came across SOPA and PIPA. “Allo, wot’s dis?” I said in my New Zealand accent. I did some reading about it and planned to write a blog post, but like most of my ideas for blog posts, I procrastinated.
Well, today is as good a day as any to write about SOPA. As you’re no doubt aware, numerous services have protested the legislation on their web pages:
Intrigued by all the predictions of doom if this bill passes, I decided to do some more research. I’ve read up Wikipedia’s summary (which isn’t blacked out), watched Vimeo’s summary, watched CNN’s summary, read a reddit blog post, checked out this infographic from American Censorship, read this article on TalkBizNews,read this one on CNET, checked out a whitepaper on CircleID, and read a few other links that I can’t remember (since I did them at the end of December).
There are plenty of summaries, many contained in all of those articles. The critics have overlapping criticisms while the proponents all focus on a narrow set of issues.
I said to myself when I started this post that I wasn’t going to summarize the SOPA legislation. Well, I’m going to break that promise because when I write about things, I understand them better. So without further ado, what is the deal with SOPA? And are the criticisms valid?
As you’re probably aware, SOPA is the Stop Online Piracy Act, which is a proposed bill sponsored in the US House of Representatives. The PIPA is the Protect IP Act, which is a similar bill sponsored by in the US Senate. Both are similar, although SOPA is a little more overreaching than PIPA.
Both bills are aimed at curbing illegal pirating of copyrighted material, such as Hollywood movies, and counterfeiting, such as Pfizer’s Viagra drug. Opponents of the bill will say that they agree with the spirit of the proposed law but that the bill is vague and will allow for abuses that will disrupt Internet commerce, clamp down on free speech and restrict creativity.
One thing that I did was go and read the text of the law. It’s in pdf format, and it’s not exactly easy reading. What surprises me about myself is that for someone who likes politics, I have historically read very few legislative bills. Shame on me!
Anyhow, starting on page 10 of the bill, it defines a section that allows the Attorney General to Protect US Customers and Prevent US support of foreign infringing sites. The goal in this section is to punish violators who are committing or facilitating the commission of the following articles under the United States Code, Section 18:
- Section 2318 – Trafficking in counterfeit labels, illicit labels, or counterfeit documentation or packaging.
- Section 2319 – Criminal infringement of a copyright.
- Section 2319A – Unauthorized fixation of and trafficking in sound recordings and music videos of live musical performances.
- Section 2319B – Unauthorized recording of Motion pictures in a Motion picture exhibition facility.
- Section 2320 – Trafficking in counterfeit goods or services.
- Chapter 90 – Protection of Trade Secrets.
Thus, any foreign website that is involved in any of the above is the target of this bill. But whereas the US government can clamp down on domestic websites who engage in illegal activities, they cannot usually clamp down on foreign websites because they do not have jurisdiction over there. For example, they cannot shut down online gambling websites based in the UK because online gambling is legal over there but is not in the US.
However, this bill allows the US government to turn the screws on the following types of US companies who can make a difference:
- The registrant of the Internet site at the email or postal address. For example, if I have registered terryzink.com, the government can serve me notice.
- To the website’s owner and operator, or, if none is listed, to the owner or operator of the IP address that allocated the IP where the web site points to.
- To Internet Service Providers like Comcast, Verizon or RoadRunner.
- To Internet Search Engines like Google, Yahoo, or Bing.
- To payment network providers, like Paypal
- To Internet advertising services, like Google (via Google’s AdSense)
The Attorney General can then serve an injunction against any US-based site that is found to be supporting a website that breaches the US Code, Section 18 defined above.
More in my next post.