What is SOPA? And is it as bad as everyone says it is? Part 4

Continuing on in my series on SOPA, here are some more arguments that people make against the legislation.

3. Other countries will get mad at the United States if they pass this legislation and retaliate

Does anyone really think that if we start blocking offshore sites arbitrarily, other countries won't follow suit?

The United States is not proposing blocking sites arbitrarily, these bills propose blocking websites that are violating the US Criminal Code.

This isn’t the same thing as a trade war where countries impose tariffs on one another’s goods in order to protect their own domestic goods. There are already lots of laws in place that restrict US companies from doing business abroad. The State Department lists various terrorist organizations and companies cannot do business with them. Companies cannot export certain kinds of products into or out of the US. Companies are already not allowed to sell illegal pharmaceuticals in the US even if they already are located offshore. And so forth. The US is proposing legislation to restrict online crime. What are other countries going to do, pass legislation of their own restricting online crime?

Well, I guess they might.

But this complaint is probably spurious.

4. The legislation is too broad

The major complaint against SOPA is that the legislation is too broad. Any plaintiff who owns a copyright can serve notice against another website, forcing them to remove the restricted content. After all:

"Facilitation" can often be argued as simply teaching or demonstrating how to do something. Under this definition, a site could be targeted for something as simple as describing how to rip a Blu-Ray. This language also makes it clear that the legislation is not solely targeting sites "dedicated to theft".

Critics claim that this is an attack on free speech because there is so much wriggle room. What does “facilitate” mean? If YouTube has videos of people posting how to rip a DVD, or on a discussion forum talking about how to share warez, or if Wikipedia has linked to articles that contain copyright infringed material (because of all of their citations), any one of these sites could be taken down for violating SOPA. Indeed, even discussing how to do it could be deemed “facilitating.”

That’s why opponents of the bill are so up in arms. It pretty much comes down to people fighting back against the Recording Industry or Movie Industry; us users are still mad that they shut down Napster and now we’re mad that they want to take away our free downloads.

Well, okay, that’s not entirely true. But the risk here is that even small infractions like images or songs or movie clips are subject to copyright violations even if they are considered innocuous. If someone is going to go crazy and force everyone to take down the websites, that ruins it for everyone. Websites would clamp down on user comments, blogs will too, and the Internet becomes read-only (since commenters can post to copyright infringing websites and the site owners have to moderate that). That would increase the Internet’s suckitude by a factor of 100.  It’s already annoying when half the video clips I want to watch have been taken down.

Click for video about how an amendment becomes law!

Why the doomsday scenarios are probably overstated, the fact is that the SOPA legislation is broad. But at the same time, we don’t know what “facilitating” means. I don’t have the legal background or case history to interpret how this works.

Legislation works better when it is defined and clear, not broad. Does this matter? It usually does.

This complaint is valid, although the claims that it violates free speech are likely overstated.  The claims that this will squeeze the life out of user creativity is probably correct.  See this video at TED for a good summary.

5. It won’t stop piracy

Out of all of the criticisms of the legislation, this one is the strongest. For all of the web filtering and domain scrubbing that is required, there are a few ways to get around it. People will write browser extensions to circumvent DNS filtering. People can always use proxies and relays. And people will make their browsers more insecure in order to get around the blocks.

I read CircleID’s article about this and it’s too dense to discuss here, but the authors are right. It’s easy for users to navigate around the proposed legislation, and it does break some of the Internet’s security protocols. If it won’t solve the problem then it’s not even worth passing the bill.

This complaint is valid.


The fight against SOPA and PIPA is similar to the fight for Network Neutrality. The Internet should be a dumb pipe that routes all content from source to destination, according to its optimal path, regardless of what that content contains. Any attempts to interfere with it must be resisted because future governments or corporations will take advantage of it to the detriment of its users.

So what will be the solution to online piracy and illegal pharmaceuticals? It’ll be the same things I mentioned above – companies like Google, Verizon and Paypal clamping down on people breaking the law while avoiding targeting its users.

The recording and entertainment industry is also probably going to have to accept the fact that their model is changing. Destroying Napster’s free giveaways didn’t send people back to CDs, but instead opened up the marketplace for 99 cent songs through Amazon and iTunes. Going after illegal movie downloaders will end up the same way – people are used to getting stuff for free… or almost free. Suing your user base is not a sustainable model (and ticks off Anonymous). Good thing we already have a service that provides movies on the web for a low price.

It’s called Netflix.

Comments (1)
  1. I totally see what you mean with the last two complaints there.  They are so valid, it's not even funny.  Those are the two that made me sign the petition, I think.  

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