Blog Post

Looks like Congress has declared war on the internet

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

Many internet users in the United States have watched with horror as countries like France and Britain have proposed or instituted so-called “three strikes” laws, which cut off internet access to those accused of repeated acts of copyright infringement. Now the U.S. has its own version of this kind of law, and it is arguably much worse: the Stop Online Piracy Act, introduced in the House this week, would give governments and private corporations unprecedented powers to remove websites from the internet on the flimsiest of grounds, and would force internet service providers to play the role of copyright police.

To recap a bit of history, the Stop Online Piracy Act or SOPA is the House version of a previous bill proposed by the Senate, which was known as the PROTECT-IP Act (a name that was an abbreviation for “Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property”). That in turn was a rewritten version of a previous proposed bill that was introduced in the Senate last year. Not wanting to be outdone by their Senate colleagues when it comes to really long acronyms, the House version is also known as the E-PARASITE Act, which is short for “Enforcing and Protecting American Rights Against Sites Intent on Theft and Exploitation.”

Copyright holders win, free speech and an open Internet lose

What it really is, however, is a disaster for the internet. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes in a post on the proposed legislation, the law would not only require ISPs to remove websites from the global network at the request of the government or the courts (by blocking any requests to the central domain-name system that directs internet traffic), but would also be forced to monitor their users’ behavior in order to police acts of copyright infringement. Providers who do not comply with these requests and requirements would be subject to sanctions. And in many cases, legal hearings would not be required. As Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) said of the PROTECT-IP Act:

At the expense of legitimate commerce, PIPA’s prescription takes an overreaching approach to policing the Internet when a more balanced and targeted approach would be more effective. The collateral damage of this approach is speech, innovation and the very integrity of the Internet.

In effect, the new law would route around many of the protections in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, including the “safe harbor” provisions (a number of law professors have said that they believe the proposed legislation would be unconstitutional because it is a restraint on freedom of speech). The idea that ISPs and internet users can avoid penalties if they remove content once they have been notified that it is infringing, for example, wouldn’t apply under the new legislation — and anyone who provides tools that allow users to access blacklisted sites would also be subject to penalties.

In addition to using what some are calling the “internet death penalty” of removing infringing websites from the DNS system so they can’t be found, the proposed bill would also allow copyright holders to push for websites and services to be removed from search engine results and to have their supply of advertising cut off — and would require that payment companies like PayPal and ad networks comply with these orders. If you liked what PayPal and others did when they shut off donations to WikiLeaks, you’re going to love the new Stop Online Piracy Act.

Creating a firewall around the internet, just like China

According to Techdirt, which has been a vocal critic of the bill and its predecessors, the new legislation would create a “Great Firewall of America,” similar to the firewall that the Chinese government uses to keep its citizens from accessing certain websites and servers that it deems to be illegal. Techdirt’s Mike Masnick notes that the new bill actually expands the range of websites that could be targeted by the bill: the previous version referred to sites that were “dedicated to infringing activities” with no other obvious purpose, but the new law would allow the government to target any site that has “only limited purpose or use” other than infringement (by the government’s definition).

The bottom line is that if it passes and becomes law, the new act would give the government and copyright holders a giant stick — if not an automatic weapon — with which to pursue websites and services they believe are infringing on their content. With little or no requirement for a court hearing, they could remove websites from the internet and shut down their ability to be found by search engines or to process payments from users. DMCA takedown notices would effectively be replaced by this nuclear option, and innocent websites would have to fight to prove that they deserved to be restored to the internet — a reversal of the traditional American judicial approach of being assumed innocent until proven guilty — at which point any business they had would be destroyed.

That might make for the kind of internet that media and entertainment conglomerates would prefer, but it would clearly be a much diminished version of the internet we take for granted. Opponents of the bill have set up a website to try and convince voters to reject the legislation and tell their congressman not to support it. Embedded below is an interview that Senator Wyden did at the recent Web 2.0 Summit about his views on the PROTECT-IP Act and why it needs to be stopped:

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr users Stefan and Kevin Dooley

248 Responses to “Looks like Congress has declared war on the internet”

  1. Something I think we should all keep in mind is that the older crowd that either did not grow up with this technology – or – couldn’t “grasp” it as it became available – are dieing off. In no way am I trying to be harsh. It is simply a fact that we are witnessing a younger version of, both, the House and Senate beginning to occupy the available seats. These individuals, for the most part, did not grow up in a bubble. We are seeing more and more that these people have websites of their own – some of which are actual businesses – and let’s not forget their spouses and extended family members. My point is this : Just like the infinite wisdom of “all things obama-care”, this, too, can – and will – be repealed, overturned, dismantled, squashed, abolished, and/or flat out made to go away should it ever be voted into law in the first place.

    Think for a moment of all of the special interest associations and connections that our elected officials are con external to. Are we to really believe that THEIR “freedom of speech” (and anything associated with it) well EVER be allowed to be trampled on?!?? I think not.

    All in all, I have more faith in the process than that. It may get bumpy from time to time – but I truly believe we are all going to be just fine!

    Sincerely and without hesitation,


    • Anonymous

      I agree with you, but it is not the process of this system that I believe in. I believe in the power of the people.

      To think that those in power care in the slightest about us as people is foolishness. To them we are numbers in a catalog, cattle, livestock, nothing more. It’s an endless repetition of history, it’s always been the same story.

      But we’re a lot smarter and stronger than we’ve ever been before, and we’ve got numbers on our side…

  2. What about the rights of talented writers, singers, movie producers, artists? Copywright scammers are costing the US billions in revenue every year, not to mention the loss of thousands of jobs.

    All I hear are crybabies and people talking about loss of internet freedom.

    Many of you would cry bloody murder if someone went to your workplace, copied what you do, did it for cheaper and you lost your job. Oh wait, its called “out sourcing”.

    I am at a lost of natural talent for singer or art but if I relied on that for a living and lost it because of some violators of copywright laws I would ashamed of a government who did not protect my rights.

  3. Emily Herrick

    “…legal hearings would not be required”? As in….no fair trial? But a corporation is still a “person”?
    Is this why hollywood and government shouldn’t interbreed?
    Who’s the president, again? Ronald Reagan?

  4. What if someone in the US pretends that there is a copyright infringement on a site hosted in the US but worked from e.g. the UK? How would the UK citizen be even able to prove his innocence and rescue his business if the US-gov and even private companies can basically do what they want?

  5. Dale Albrecht

    People who pirate software and music really don’t have much moral authority to complain about this.

    If you walked into a retail store and tried to leave with books, software or music you didn’t pay for you would be arrested. No doubt the arresting officer would be amused by your ranting about freedom of speech as he drove you to jail.

  6.’s 2011. Get with the times and find new ways of generating/prootecting revenue. If its on the web, then it’s free media. Learn to keep it off or deal with it already. Better yet, go after the 12 year olds that are unknowingly uploading .. isn’t that easier!?

  7. verified ✔

    The first ‘corporate entity’ to go after people on the Internet? “The Onion” – This is like a bad dream, a poorly constructed horror novel, or just more millionaires trying squash free speech.

  8. OldWiseOne

    More good reason to support EFF and use your brain and not “political” tests to make decisions. Anyone doing so is merely doomed to mediocrity. If people would stop trying to divide America and put their minds to solving problems, we’d have solutions to the problems by now. As long as people care more about gay marriage than employing people, that won’t happen; as long as people care about silencing websites and the Internet versus taking care of millions of starving and poor American children at home, that won’t happen; As long as people show that their only concern is political power versus actually using their god-given brains to conceive solutions to the problems – we are doomed as a nation. We deserve it for our arrogance of advocating this sort of idiocy and forgetting what we once were, a nation not afraid of freedom and free speech. Now we are the nation of idiocracy come to life.

  9. John Williams

    Solution: Alternative DNS bridges that are virtualized and can route traffic from real to virtual (unfiltered) IP addresses; ISP’s would not be able to inspect the packets and therefore could not be liable for their content.

    Don’t like IP? Could be an opportunity for altnet…

  10. Brandon Broze

    In the end, is it REALLY worth it for anyone to get their panties in a bunch about copyright infringement? At the end of the day… who cares? How many people are ‘hurt’ by it? 5? come on

    Congress has more important things it should attend to, like job creation. This is nothing more than a distraction.

  11. Brandon Broze

    But Congress and the big media corporations want none of it. They’ll keep fighting and pretending like there’s a chance in hell they’ll win

    Bitching and whining about “piracy” is pretty pointless, if you ask me. IT’S NOT GOING AWAY ANYTIME SOON! DEAL WITH IT.

  12. Brandon Broze

    Why are they so damn afraid of people “stealing” or “pirating” with regards to copyright??? STAND UP TO THE CORPORATIONS AND TELL THEM TO F*CK OFF here! The extreme anti-piracy stance is rooted mostly in greed, esp. from the corporations’ standpoint. Of course, it’s not like “piracy” EVER caused a major media corporation to go out of business, so what are they so afraid of??

    After all, the people who PRODUCE the vast majority of ‘pirated’ shit ARE THOSE SAME WEALTHY CORPORATIONS! Of COURSE they have to exist in order for there to be ‘pirated’ shit, so it’s impossible for us to pirate them out of existence, in a way.

  13. Brandon Broze

    When will these copyright hawks LEARN? YOU CAN’T STOP THE PROGRESS! This is a losing battle. You’ll NEVER stop so-called “copyright infringement” no matter how many people you lock up or whose Internet access you kill. So why bother trying? Find a BETTER approach, like requiring the bigwigs to actually compete in the marketplace with us.

    Or… I dunno, maybe ALLOWING us smaller people to compete WITH the bigwigs or something like that? After they’ve made substantial profits off their tv shows, music, etc., why should they STILL be the only ones who have a right to upload, use, sell, etc. it? There’s no reasonable argument for such restrictions.

    • Charles Arnold

      Brandon, perhaps we won’t be able to stop the piracy but at least this might cut it down. My question to you, Brandon, is who are you calling bigwigs; exactly who are you referring to? It certainly isn’t the thousands of us who aren’t rich, who aren’t powerful, but who are working writers who are just trying to feed our families? But no, we see our work, work that we hoped would provide us with a few hundred buck per article, posted on a public site, without any credit or even finding some thief’s name attached. Great going Brandon, another example of I want what I want it and I want it now and I want it for free and to hell with whoever I’m stealing it from.

      • Ruben Safir

        Charles, your a Time Warner troll. My question to you Charles, is who is a thief. Is it your daughter and your son who share movies on their ipad? Is it your wife who borrows a Disney picture to put in an email? Should they be jailed and then their internet providers punished? Should all the internet providers be proxies for Time Warner?

        Charles, go do something important, like fight against Drunk Driving by shutting down GM when it makes cars for drunks.

  14. They can bail out a unconstitutional system like wall street and banks, can’t stop bickering long enough to fix anything important like the economy, housing market,etc. But internet piracey it’s whats important? This is like the steroid thing ask over again waisting time and money smh

  15. Wylde Liife

    Wouldn’t that also work in reverse though; if an individual had their content infringed upon by one of the entertainment behemoths or even a govt website, that individual could have THEM shutdown…though with no requirement to prove it in court, I’m sure the behemoths will be given a pass. This law has less to do with piracy and more to do with an attempt at govt censorship under the guises of copyright law. One of the few places left that our Corporatocracy doesn’t control is the information highway…that is about to change.

  16. Wouldn’t that also work in reverse though; if an individual had their content infringed upon by one of the entertainment behemoths or even a govt website, that individual could have THEM shutdown…though with no requirement to prove it in court, I’m sure the behemoths will be given a pass. This law has less to do with piracy and more to do with an attempt at govt censorship under the guises of copyright law. One of the few places left that our Corporatocracy doesn’t control is the information highway…that is about to change.