Blog Post

Looks like Congress has declared war on the internet

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. Is this still the USA …. This bill attacks freedom, infringes on the privacy of those who are not pirates and is unconstitutional as it violates the basic premises that our country is founded on… there has to be a better way to stop copyright infringement without sacrificing our freedom and privacy

  2. I’m all for this! It paves the way for other, similar laws like having Berretta, Smith and Wesson, Banelli and other gun manufacturers establish their own para-military security forces to police gun ownership. We can also have the Public Library systems in each state form their own court system to dish out justice each time someone gets an idea from a book.

  3. Josh Chiriboga

    Without evening knowing the full extent of this law, it looks like nothing more than the hostile government attempt to control the public. This is the government attempting to silence the media that they cant control. I hope this bill does not pass and firmly believe that any vote for this is a vote against the freedom of speech. I got a better idea why doesn’t congress just pass a burn the Constitution bill and get it over with. While I’m at it why don’t we dissolve congress clearly all we need is Obama’s executive orders.

    • Mark V Reid

      As far as I can tell, if we did that, then there would be literally zero US Gov’t lol, since Obama does not appear to give any orders. He only lightly refers to things such that no one doubts his existence.

  4. busted mirror

    So I buy cable from Comcast and invite a friend over to my house to watch it…but wait he’s not allowed as that would be pirating cable for which he didn’t pay…right? BS!

  5. For these conservatives, “big government” is an inherent evil when it helps the unfortunate, attempts to give everyone an equal chance, protects the environment and so on; however, for them, “big government” is good when it is about mass surveillance and maintaining an empire through massive military operations across the globe.

  6. Freedom gave the US innovation and rapid growth over the last 60+ years, fear and ignorance of the current generation is going to kill both. I still cannot believe you accepted not just one, but TWO patriot acts. USA, under the Patriot Act (1) is now the most, legally, repressive country in the world. You must all be so proud.

    • Conservatives can’t stand innovation. It’s inherent in the word “conservative,” so suppression of innovation goes hand-in-hand with inhibition of freedom of speech, except where “speech” means “money.”

  7. Pretty simple solution. Vote. Get rid your state to vote out the representatives that passed it. Then make sure you know which candidates are for/against it. Get the one that’s willing to revoke it, in. Otherwise keep writing in some guy that will

  8. The freedom of the internet is closing? No way! Politicians should have to get off from touching the digital/internet section. This is ridiculous! They are IT blind.

  9. to all the people. if this passes my voice your voice and everybody’s voice will be henceforth SILENCED! how would you like to be told that this site with NO trial will be henceforth SHUT DOWN? that is what is at stake.WAKE UP CHARLES and others YOUR VOICE will be censored ALL for 1 reason RIAA/MPAA PROFIT!

  10. ok, so whats next? Are they going to close down public libraries? People read books, watch dvd’s etc for free. How is this different from doing the same over the internet?

  11. guest.it

    @Charles Arnold – Your arguments in favor of this bill are astonishingly bad. But you are at least -consistent- and not all over the place. You must work for one of the companies that will benefit heavily from this passing. Let me put this into perspective: Do you like watching YouTube videos? I sure do as do most Americans. Is there illegal content on there? Sure. Does stuff get taken down when the copyright holders request it? Yes. Will you get sued if you wear the wrong pair of pants by the clothing manufacturer if this bill passes? Absolutely.

    The only guarantee you wouldn’t get sued on YouTube is if you were stark naked in a whitewashed room. But no one wants to see you naked. And you’d probably get arrested for doing a “public performance while nude without a valid license.”

    This bill is overreaching in its authority and sponsored, not by the people, but the corporations who will benefit. E-PARASITE is great name if I ever heard of one. It will suck the life out of the Internet. Our legal system is killing us ordinary folk – we need fewer laws on the books, not more. If this law passes, we won’t even be able to have little comment sections like this one on most sites because of potential copyright infringement issues…no matter how unintentional. So you won’t be able to talk to me any more and I won’t be able to talk to you. It will kill all social media sites, YouTube, every forum, and every commenting system. Exactly the way the average government wants it – though one would hope our government was “above average”. Put that in your thinking cap for a while. Similar to DMCA, there are so many ways this law will be abused. Have we learned nothing?

    As a software developer, there are people who pirate my commercial products. I DON’T CARE! Here’s why: Anyone who wants to get support for my products has to be in my system. If they aren’t, they don’t get support. It works. Also, I’m constantly innovating new stuff that people want, so the software pirates are always several steps behind me. In addition, a lot of pirated software have viruses and other malware embedded into the pirated codebase because the pirates want to get keyloggers onto your computer so they can steal your identity/money. You have to be a blundering moron to pirate software.

    Similar things can and are being done for other forms of digitized IP. Of course, it would be far simpler to instill a standard set of morals and common sense into Americans than trying to make laws like this.

    I don’t want to be “protected” by any government. Let me fend for myself.

    • Charles Arnold

      Well, guest who won’t even reveal your name, I am a free lance writer; I don’t work for any corporation, just whoever I can sell a piece to. As for whether or not I watch YouTube, no, I don’t. Of course you assume that I do because you do and you seem to believe that you have a right to steal my work and the work of thousands of other writers like me who are just trying to make a living. Why thank you so much for doing your best to add all of us to the unemployed.

  12. Blain Gunter

    Are you f*cking me? Let me guess, no more wikileaks or anything of the like. No more DIY websites that help users make a cheaper version of something. Why the hell are they so worried about this? Shouldn’t they instead aim this towards child pornography?? Millions of children are being abused, raped, and taped then put online for very sick people to masturbate to… “No problem” says the government. But if I want to use my freedom of speech and show people how to put Mac OSX on a PC, my site could be shut down and I could be further monitored? Does this seem a little ass-backwards to anyone else?? “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.” — Benito Mussolini

  13. Charles Arnold

    As a writer and author who has had his work stolen many times, I support this legislation. When I found a site that had stolen and republished 56 of my articles and reported it to the FBI there was no response. When ThemeStream was a paying site where writers could supplement their income, pirates went in and stole literally thousands of articles, taking food out of our mouths and bankrupting the site. I am more than sick and tired of the “I am entitled to anything I want and there is no reason in the world I should have to pay for it” mentality that I find so terribly frequently on the internet. Now, when I publish something on the internet I know that, should some low-life steal it, there is something that I can do.

    Charles Arnold

    • yes I do understand your pain of losing your works to others that won’t pay a single cent. but think of this charles. what if you make something and the corporate giants then decide that you are “pirating” since to them ANYBODY who doesn’t sign a publishing contract is a “pirate” and your personal work is taken down? THEY call into question or label project gutenberg a infringing site! and thats just 1 example! why support a regime that in the end WILL bite the hand that feeds it?