For those that haven't heard, today is blackout day. To protest two bills in Congress (mainly SOPA, but also PIPA), several large websites are "going dark" today. They include Google
, among others
. Here at 4F, we decided it was more important to get the message out as much as possible. We know how small we are; "going black" for us would not have made any impact. People who don't follow politics, however, DO use Google and the Wiki, and will notice the message.
So what is going on exactly? What is the problem with the "Stop Online Piracy Act"? As a writer and songwriter, I know I would be upset if someone stole my creative work and didn't pay for it. Musicians, songwriters, and filmmakers deserve to get paid for their work, right?
The problem is that the bill goes too far. Here is the problem summarized
There are a number of key differences, however. Unlike SOPA, PIPA lacks a provision that requires search engines (like Google and Bing) to remove a “foreign infringing site” from their indexes. This provision in SOPA is one of the most highly criticized.
PIPA also contains provisions that require greater court intervention to go after an accused website than SOPA does. But it does not contain any provisions that would penalize copyright holders for misrepresenting the alleged infringing activities of an accused website — a potentially disastrous omission for innocent sites put through the PIPA ringer. SOPA does contain a provision that penalizes those copyright holders who “knowingly materially misrepresent” the alleged infringement of a website by making them “liable for damages, including costs and attorneys’ fees, incurred by the person injured by such misrepresentation as a result of the misrepresentation.”
Also included in both bills is an anti-circumvention provision, which would make it illegal to inform users how to access blocked sites. According to First Amendment expert Marvin Ammori, a Legal Fellow with the New America Foundation Open Technology Initiative and an Affiliate Scholar at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet & Society, this provision could be interpreted to require any website that features user-generated content (think Facebook, Reddit, or YouTube) to make sure that no circumvention information has been posted to their site, or risk legal action.
Another provision highly cited by critics is the “vigilante” part of SOPA/PIPA, which allows ISPs to voluntarily block access to certain foreign websites, “in good faith,” if they have “credible evidence” that these sites are devoted to illegally distributing copyrighted material. Both SOPA and PIPA give immunity to ISPs who take voluntary action against websites that are believed — but not proven — to be dedicated to the illegal distribution of intellectual property. Because of this, critics say the potential to abuse this power is unconscionable.
Here is another take on how it would affect you
An analysis (PDF) of Protect IP prepared by five Internet researchers this spring lists potential security problems. Among them: it's "incompatible" with DNSSEC, innocent Web sites will be swept in as "collateral damage," and the blacklist can be bypassed by using the numeric Internet address of a Web site. The [IP] address for CNET.com, for instance, is currently 188.8.131.52.
A little-noticed portion of the proposed law, which CNET highlighted in an article, goes further than Protect IP and could require Internet providers to monitor customers' traffic and block Web sites suspected of copyright infringement.
"It would cover IP blocking," says Markham Erickson, head of NetCoalition, whose members include Amazon.com, Google, eBay, and Yahoo. "I think it contemplates deep packet inspection" as well, he said.
Deep packet inspection, meaning forcing an Internet provider to intercept and analyze customers' Web traffic, is the only way to block access to specific URLs.
There has been a lot of noise being generated prevent the passage of either of these bills. The noise finally breached the thick walls of the White House; President Obama has released a statement
indicating that the bills - while good in theory - are too heavy-handed in application.
Packet-sniffing is incredibly expensive in terms of performance, so this could slow down the entire internet. Someone could report this site as being an offender, and we would be shut down and have to defend ourselves in court
to get "unfiltered". We could get blocked because our IP address is right next to another one.
Despite all of the dense techno-jargon involved, this is a BIG issue that affects all of us (regardless of political persuasion) and it is incumbent on us to learn about it and let our representatives know what we think. Otherwise, the day may come when web sites we take for granted are swept down into the black abyss along with the rogue sites being targeted.