Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA might no longer be seen as super

Politico reports that as various websites voluntary go dark today, the pressure is building on multiple fronts to scuttle the SOPA bill being considered in the Senate.
Controversial anti-piracy legislation, already on life support in the House, is now in serious doubt in the Senate, where the confluence of a Republican rump rebellion, White House concerns and a Wednesday blackout by Wikipedia, Mozilla and other big-name websites is enough to give some senators second thoughts.
Republican Sen. Scott Brown, locked in a reelection fight with Elizabeth Warren in Democratic-leaning Massachusetts, announced on Twitter on Tuesday that he’d vote against the Senate's PROTECT IP Act and the House's Stop Online Piracy Act. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), once a co-sponsor, now opposes the bill, and sources involved in the fight say they expect more lawmakers to drop their support for the measure.
It all amounts to this: Congress woke the sleeping tech giant, and now lawmakers are desperate to pacify it.
Indeed, the sleeping giant was awakened. And it has responded by allowing its users to do nothing on those sites. For additional perspective on why these companies have done what they've done, consider this report from the Globe and Mail
1: Scope
Webmasters are especially concerned about the onus the proposed laws place on anyone linking to a particular piece of content. Because the legislation could punish someone who links to a site that happens to also host copyrighted content, those doing the linking could be forced to first make sure the site is completely free of such content – an incredibly difficult task in the case of massive sites, such as YouTube.
2: Cross-Border Effect
Even though SOPA and PIPA are proposed American laws, their impact is unlikely to be contained within U.S. borders. As Canadian copyright expert Michael Geist points out, SOPA defines “domestic” IP addresses – the numeric code by which websites are listed – as an address for which the allocating entity is located within the United States. However, the American Registry for Internet Numbers, which is located in the U.S., doesn’t just assign IP addresses domestically – it’s also in charge of allocating addresses to Canada and 20 Caribbean nations. That means, American legislation designed to alter the domestic Internet landscape could end up altering much more.
3: Unintended Consequences
Among the provisions of the proposed laws are sections designed to criminalize the use of technology that would allow users to essentially get around the law itself. For example, software tools that let users hide their geographical locations, thereby avoiding the blacklist of banned sites that SOPA would create for U.S. Internet users, would be illegal. However, such tools are vital for activists in places such as the Middle East and China. As such, the proposed laws could have a chilling effect on those activists and the organizations that make the software they use.
4: Reach
In addition to Internet service providers, provisions of PIPA and SOPA allow the government – and, in some cases, the individual copyright holders – to compel online payment services, ad networks and search engines to stop doing business with or listing targeted websites. And unlike other laws that focused on websites involved primarily in piracy, the bills expand the focus to include sites on which any infringing content is found, no matter how minuscule. As such, American users of cloud storage or video hosting sites could find the entire site, along with their own content, suddenly much more difficult to access, because a single user uploaded a piece of copyrighted content.
Perhaps the lesson here is that Washington politicians failed to get a sense of what the country's mood was for such legislation. Something about living in a bubble comes to mind, no?

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