Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why I Oppose SOPA and PIPA

Who could be in favor of Internet piracy?  For the record, not me.  But PIPA and SOPA are not only about Internet piracy.  (For the record:  SOPA is the house bill, PIPA is the Senate bill.  Any law would have to be a combination of the two.)

In the interest of the free Internet, I will do something that could potentially be illegal under SOPA/PIPA:  I will quote two extended discussions of the legislation from other blogs.

Yesterday on the global blog Crooked Timber (which I'm delighted to learn about), blogger Maria Farrell posted this:

Because Freedom isn’t Free: Why We* Blacked Out Crooked Timber

This is a detailed and thoughtful analysis of what could easily happen under SOPA/PIPA to almost any blog.  Including this one.  And it wouldn't even have to be anything I did:  if any poster on Blogger were to post allegedly pirated content, the attorney general would legally be able to - shut down Blogger.  All of it.

If this seems extreme, read this from Chris Heald at Mashable yesterday:

Why SOPA is Dangerous

Heald analyzes in detail exactly what's so threatening about this legislation, with links to the actual bill, so you can read it for yourself.

But this is my blog, so here's why I think this is wrong, based on reading these two sources (and other sources, but these were the best):

It is so broadly written that all anyone would have to do to shut down a web site, any web site, would be to file a complaint with the attorney general that the site was "facilitating the commission of copyright infringement."
Section 102(a)(2) permits the attorney general to take action against foreign sites (i.e., sites that do not fall under U.S. jurisdiction) if “the owner or operator of such Internet site is facilitating the commission of [copyright infringement].”
And as you notice, it doesn't even have to be a U.S. site.  This is the United States trying to impose its own legal structure on the entire world.  Must be okay because we're just trying to get criminals, right?

There is no definition of "facilitating" in the bill.  Here's the actual definition in SOPA (for the record this is sec. 102):
    (a) Definition- For purposes of this section, a foreign Internet site or portion thereof is a `foreign infringing site' if--
      (1) the Internet site or portion thereof is a U.S.-directed site and is used by users in the United States;
      (2) the owner or operator of such Internet site is committing or facilitating the commission of criminal violations punishable under section 2318, 2319, 2319A, 2319B, or 2320, or chapter 90, of title 18, United States Code; and
      (3) the Internet site would, by reason of acts described in paragraph (1), be subject to seizure in the United States in an action brought by the Attorney General if such site were a domestic Internet site.

That's it. That's the entire definition.  That means that a site is a "foreign infringing site" if the attorney general says it is.  Don't let the code sections they list fool you.  There is no standard of proof in this act.  There is no way for a site to prove that it isn't "infringing."  You are infringing if someone says you are.

This disturbs me deeply.  This is another step toward the end of the rule of law in this country, following on the legalizing of indefinite detention of U.S. citizens in the N.D.A.A. recently.  Even more disturbing, the attorney general is only required to make a cursory attempt to locate the owners of the site before starting proceedings.  (Read the Mashable article, and the bill, if you don't believe me.)  So your totally innocent site could be blocked and you might not find out until you tried to go there yourself.

And they're doing this based on bogus numbers.  The GAO concluded about a year ago that commonly quoted "government statistics" on internet piracy can't be validated and appear to have been mostly made up:  see this article by Nate Anderson in ArsTechnica on a GAO review of commonly published piracy estimates:

US government finally admits most piracy estimates are bogus


If you haven't already done it, I urge you all to contact your representatives in Congress and the Senate and ask them to oppose these bills.  Sure, Internet piracy is wrong, but this isn't the way to fight it.

1 comment:

  1. K:

    I signed an online petition the day before yesterday in protest against this proposed legislation.

    I had first-hand experience of the kind of dangerous censorship which would be facilitated by the proposed new laws.

    On May 19th 2010 I posted an attack on (now former) Judge Oliver Wanger, for his decisions rendered in favor of corporate agri-business in Fresno County. (Mr. Wanger now works directly for the water district he once ruled for.)

    In any case, Blogger notified me about a month after the post that it had taken the post down, in response to a complaint. They refused to specify who had filed it, or why, or what it referred to, and they told me I could find the complaint filing in a database available online.

    The interesting thing is that I was never able to verify the complaint. The database is not arranged in such a way that it can be read or searched efficiently, so the only way you could "find" yours is to scroll thought literally millions of such entries--which are not easy to read, either. At first I thought it might be the photographer whose image I had found on Google Images. But I've never received a complaint of that type. I was sure it was Wanger himself, or some firm he had hired to "scrub" his online image, who did the deed.

    Blogger's policy about such complaints is basically to accede to the complainant's allegation, remove the offending matter, and warn the blog owner that further "violations" will result in complete removal from the blogsite. They do nothing to verify the validity of the complaint, or to determine whether the blog owner is at fault in any way, or even if the use constitutes infringement or any other kind of wrong-doing.

    There are a couple of very nasty entries about me online, which I can do nothing about. I suppose I could hire one of these online security firms to get a complaint posted (for a healthy fee, I expect) which might get them taken down. But for how long? Even putting a hold on an uncashed check lasts just a year.

    There's no question in my mind that the potential for mischief is far greater with this legislation than any benefits it might bring to those who think they've been injured by unauthorized use.

    I also got into a tussle with the son of Louis Zukofsky--Paul Zukofsky, the noted classical violinist who thinks all use of his father's literary work should be paid for--even in the body of reviews--which is defined in American copyright law as permitted. But he'll threaten you with suit if you do--which he did to me.