Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA - Read it and weep

There's not much I can add to the Stop Online Piracy Act protest that hasn't been said better elsewhere. I would, though, encourage you to read the bill for yourself. There are many interpretations of what it says, and some of those interpretations are filtered through what the writer thinks it says.

So here's a link to the published version of the bill, H.R. 3261.IH.

My objections aren't to the intent of the legislation -- protecting intellectual property -- but the tools given for that protection. I'm especially concerned that there's no provision for due process. If you're accused of having infringing content on your site, then down it comes and we'll sort out the details later.

Let's move that concept offline.  I don't like you, so I tell the police that you have stolen property in your home. The police have a number of options, such as checking on the credibility of the report, doing some discreet investigating, or doing some active investigating. In other words, acting under the assumption that the accused is innocent until proven guilty.

If SOPA guidelines were used, the police would just show up at your home and begin a search -- without a warrant. They would not tell you why they were there or what they were looking for, nor what prompted their visit in the first place. And if  they received a second or third complaint, then you would probably be arrested, although a trial may or may not be at the end of the process (arrest is enough).

It's a recipe for censorship. Under SOPA, it's very easy to register a complaint. The consequences to the accused are dire, and recourse is limited.

So if I don't like you as a person, I could get your blog taken down by simply turning you in for having infringing material. You've been careful? How about that comment I posted using Bart Simpson as an avatar? According to SOPA any infringing content taints the whole site. Don't think that's fair? Well, there's precedent. Employees of Viacom fed YouTube videos posing as individuals -- then Viacom sued YouTube for copyright infringement.

Or like Viacom, if I don't like your business, then I can make sure you have infringing content and get your site taken down. And if I can get the government to do it, then even better -- it might stay down a year or more, which would cripple (if not kill) your business.

Or, if I don't like your political party....

Don't think that's likely? Well, one of the sponsors of SOPA  Senator Lamar Smith, just happens to have some infringing material on his website. So his site could fall prey to the very penalties he's pushing for.

One more thing: the folks behind this,the  RIAA and MPAA have a model in mind when they helped draft this legislation.

As Chris Dodd, chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America said, "When the Chinese told Google that they had to block sites or they couldn't do [business] in their country, they managed to figure out how to block sites." (from Variety)

Yes, let's manage the Internet like China does for its citizens. Now there's a chilling thought.

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