• General Musings On SOPA And PROTECT-IP.

    I realize I'm probably a day late and a dollar short on this issue, but better late than never.

    Big media and its allies in Congress are billing the Internet Blacklist Legislation as a new way to prevent online infringement. But innovation and free speech advocates know that this initiative is nothing more than a dangerous wish list that will compromise Internet security while doing little or nothing to encourage creative expression.

    As drafted, the legislation would grant the government and private parties unprecedented power to interfere with the Internet's domain name system (DNS). The government would be able to force ISPs and search engines to redirect or dump users' attempts to reach certain websites' URLs. In response, third parties will woo average users to alternative servers that offer access to the entire Internet (not just the newly censored U.S. version), which will create new computer security vulnerabilities as the reliability and universality of the DNS evaporates.

    It gets worse: Under SOPA's provisions, service providers (including hosting services) would be under new pressure to monitor and police their users’ activities. While PROTECT-IP targeted sites “dedicated to infringing activities,” SOPA targets websites that simply don’t do enough to track and police infringement (and it is not at all clear what would be enough). And it creates new powers to shut down folks who provide tools to help users get access to the Internet the rest of the world sees (not just the “U.S. authorized version”).

    To summarize, it's yet another attempt to return the Internet to the days of America Online's "walled gardens." Anyone old enough to remember those free floppy disks and CDs will remember how there used to be two separate Internet experiences for AOL users: one was the walled garden portal that had AOL-supplied content on AOL's own mini-browser, and the rest of the World Wide Web, available to those who were brave enough to open up Internet Explorer.

    Or better still, it's an attempt by major content providers to turn the Internet into the same closed and regulated resource as cable television. It's a place where resources like Hulu and YouTube don't exist, and NBCUniversal and Comcast are more than happy to feed you content, on their terms. Like most things in life and legislation, the push for SOPA/PROTECT-IP comes from the pocketbooks of corporate interests.

    SOPA/PROTECT-IP effectively gives copyright holders greater leeway in having a site it believes to be in the business of infringing upon its content removed, and it places greater impetus on domain registrars and Internet service providers to remove or block said websites. It also extends secondary liability to third-party groups who were formerly immune under existing laws.

    As for the promise that it doesn't expand secondary liability, that's nice to say but it's simply untrue. By its very nature, the entire purpose of the bill is to extend secondary liability to third parties that had previously been almost entirely immune from such liability: ad networks, payment processors, search engines and ISPs now face liability if they do not disconnect service from certain websites. That is, without a doubt, a pretty massive expansion of secondary liability, no matter how many times the drafters of this Act insist it's not.

    That's right. Even search engines like Google can get put on the hook for failing to remove "infringing links and/or content."

    The most worrying aspect of SOPA/PROTECT-IP is its promotion of regulatory capture of Internet technologies, causing innovations that happen to run afoul of entertainment industry interests to remain shelved for good. These acts also allow for selective enforcement of copyright, enabling it as a tool to shut down organizations and individuals who say the wrong things about the wrong people. I can see bloggers getting shut down due to dubious copyright infringement claims, without the due process available to vet those claims as being false.

    Check out the House and Senate bills in the links provided.