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Ito and Zuckerman write: "SOPA ... and a sister bill, PIPA ... seek to minimize the dissemination of copyrighted material online by targeting sites that promote and enable the sharing of copyright-protected material ... While this goal may be laudable, entrepreneurs, legal scholars and free speech activists are worried about the consequences of these bills for the architecture of the internet."

File photo: Facebook logo-computer screen montage. (photo: Google)
File photo: Facebook logo-computer screen montage. (photo: Google)

Why SOPA and PIPA Must Be Stopped

By Joi Ito and Ethan Zuckerman, Al Jazeera

16 January 12


Internet and technology experts discuss why current anti-piracy legislation in the US must be stopped.

OPA - the Stop Online Piracy Act - and a sister bill, PIPA - the Protect IP Act - seek to minimise the dissemination of copyrighted material online by targeting sites that promote and enable the sharing of copyright-protected material, like The Pirate Bay. While this goal may be laudable, entrepreneurs, legal scholars and free speech activists are worried about the consequences of these bills for the architecture of the internet. At the MIT Media Lab, we share those concerns, and we oppose SOPA and PIPA as threats to innovation on the internet.

To limit access to rogue sites, SOPA and PIPA would:

Supersede the "notice and takedown" method of policing for copyrighted material on internet services and require service providers to police content uploaded by users or prevent users from uploading copyrighted content.

Require Internet Service Providers to change their DNS servers and block resolution of the domain names of websites in other countries that host illegal copies of content.

Require search engines to modify their search results to exclude foreign websites that illegally host copyrighted material.

Order payment processors like PayPal and ad services like Google AdSense to cease doing business with foreign websites that illegally host copyrighted content.

Major internet companies, including Google, Facebook, Twitter and others, oppose SOPA and PIPA because it changes the liability rules around copyright infringement. Under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998, companies are protected from charges of "contributory infringement" on content uploaded by users, so long as the company follows a procedure and remove infringing content when an alert process is followed.

SOPA substantially alters this system, and internet companies worry that without protection from contributory infringement, user-generated content sites like YouTube and Twitter would not have come into existence. The burden of reviewing user-submitted content - every blog post, every video, every image - would be impossible for a company to manage, and companies would have likely stuck with the Web 1.0 model of publishing edited, vetted content instead of moving to a Web 2.0 model where users create the content. Several internet companies took out a full-page ad in the New York Times to express their concerns about SOPA and PIPA.

Free speech advocates, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, worry that SOPA may provide powerful new tools to silence online speech. Confronted with uncomfortable political speech, repressive governments often seek to silence dissent by reporting content as defamatory, slanderous or copyright infringing, hoping the companies hosting the speech will remove the content.

SOPA accelerates the process of copyright removal, with a mechanism that permits copyright holders to obtain court orders against sites hosting copyrighted materials and have those sites rapidly blocked. Scholars of online censorship, like Rebecca MacKinnon at the New America Foundation, worry that SOPA may be popular with the Chinese government as with the copyright holders who are lobbying for the bill.

US law already permits the seizure of domestic domain names that are used for piracy, and the US seized 150 domains in November. SOPA is an attempt to enforce copyright provisions across international borders by prohibiting American internet users from accessing certain foreign websites, like The Pirate Bay. In effect, it would create a firewall to prevent users from accessing prohibited intellectual property, much as China's "great firewall" limits access to politically sensitive information.

Harvard legal scholar Laurence Tribe believes that SOPA is likely unconstitutional, as it can remove constitutionally protected speech without a hearing, a form of "prior restraint". In a memo sent to members of Congress, he points out that SOPA proposes a system where a single instance of prohibited material could lead to the blocking of thousands of unrelated pieces of content.

Internet experts have observed that, beyond being dangerous to innovation, harmful to speech and potentially unconstitutional, SOPA and PIPA are unlikely to work. Countries that block access to prohibited websites by altering the domain name system - as Vietnam does in blocking access to Facebook - find that millions of users are able to circumvent this form of censorship.

Millions of Vietnamese users have become Facebook users by entering that site's IP address into their browsers, or configuring their computers to use an uncensored DNS server. It's likely that dedicated US users of The Pirate Bay and other sites will do likewise. Effectively blocking access to sites like The Pirate Bay might require US ISPs to install powerful and expensive "deep packet inspection" software, a cost that would inevitably be passed onto their users.

The progress of the bills was slowed in late 2011 by widespread online activism opposing SOPA and PIPA. Hearings are likely to resume early in 2012, and opponents of the bills are facing off against organised lobbying campaigns by the music and film industries who support the legislation.

On November 16, 2011, participatory media company Tumblr took strong online action against SOPA, redirecting requests for content on the site to a page that urged users to call US representatives and oppose the bill - their daylong campaign generated more than 87,000 calls to Congress. Internet community site Reddit plans a site-wide "blackout" on January 18 to inform users of the potential harms of SOPA and PIPA. Wikipedia is considering doing the same.

In the spirit of these protests, the MIT Media Lab has linked this blog post to all our site pages, encouraging anyone interested in the work we do to learn more about SOPA and PIPA. More information and resources follow below. We believe that SOPA and PIPA would make it harder for Media Lab students, researchers and faculty to do what we do best: create innovative technologies that anticipate the future by creating it. We hope you'll join with us in opposing these bills and, if you are a US citizen, in letting your representatives know your concerns about this legislation.

Selected Resources on SOPA and PIPA

Liz Dwyer, "Why SOPA Could Kill the Open Educational Resource Movement", Good Magazine.

Julian Sanchez, "SOPA: An Architecture for Censorship", Cato Institute.

Dan Rowinsky, "What You Need to Know About SOPA in 2012", ReadWriteWeb.

"Internet Blacklist Legislation", Electronic Frontier Foundation, EFF's email campaign against the legislation and EFF guide to meeting with your representatives. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+9 # Tippitc 2012-01-16 20:56
The military can arbitrarily 'disappear' someone for stocking too much food in the pantry and next is monitoring the Internet - Do I see a pattern here?! WOW - Has everyone in DC lost their friggin' minds?!?!
+3 # Glen 2012-01-17 07:37
No Tippitc, those in DC have not lost their minds. This is a long term plan of takeover. The internet has been threatened for quite some time. Probably fairly soon after it went seriously public. That is the reason for major campaigns and petitions against it by such as SaveTheInternet , et al. Many of us have joined the fight, but probably knew it was a lost cause.
+3 # mwd870 2012-01-17 08:00
They lost their minds a while ago. The mindset inside the beltway seems to be completely disconnected from the rest of America. My first reaction to articles like this is always, why isn't "the government" working on the important issues that need to be addressed.
+3 # Babe 2012-01-17 01:03
I think such a bill is ridiculous. As a published author, it doesn't bother me a whit if someone likes my books well enough to read them from an online site without paying for them. In fact, I'm flattered--that 's free publicity, baby! Of course, I'd sue to the max, if they plagerized my name.
+3 # Barbara K 2012-01-17 06:29
These Bills will punish the innocent more than the guilty. Many of us use the internet for good, not to steal copyrighted material. I enjoy YouTube, but have never downloaded a video. I just bookmark the page that contains the song I like and then use my bookmark to bring it back up on YouTube and listen to it again, etc. I'm sure most people do the same. How about just keeping sensitive material better protected and make up a new system for it so we can enjoy the sites we like? I'm sure someone can come up with a way to prevent copyrighted material from being downloaded. By the time they get through with messing up the internet, it will be useless to us any more.


our future is at stake
+3 # TGMisanthrope 2012-01-17 06:55
"Has everyone in DC lost their friggin' minds?!?!"

No, Tippitc, they've simply found a fattened bank account.
-7 # RLF 2012-01-17 07:53
You young wippersnappers think everything (except what you produce) should be free. The music industry has been decimated by the internet. Some balance has to be found...and I won't pretend to know how that is to be done but it must be.
0 # Robyn 2012-01-19 03:46
Quoting RLF:
You young wippersnappers think everything (except what you produce) should be free. The music industry has been decimated by the internet. Some balance has to be found...and I won't pretend to know how that is to be done but it must be.

It's not that we think that we should get things for free, it's about the open exchange of ideas. It's about people being able to express themselves without fear of censorship. These bills are dangerous because it's a slippery slope to completely controlling information and what we think. As for the music industry being decimated, that's a laugh, most of the music that I hear are rip offs of the songs I used to listen to when I was younger. Oh and the movie industry is even worse, nearly every film they have done has been a ripoff of a foreign film. I would list them here but the list would go on forever.
Here are a few though: Mirror/Into The Mirror, Let Me In/Let The Right One In.
Shutter/Shutter 08 and the list goes on.
For the music and movie industries to call foul over copyright infringement is a joke. And yes I know they would would pay for the rights on that material but a ripoff is still a ripoff.
+1 # BradFromSalem 2012-01-17 14:40
So, lets say you run a flea market. Are you supposed to make sure that nobody is selling stuff stolen off of a truck 10 states away?

Up the ante. You run a mall. A guy opens a store selling books, dvds, and cds. An author complains that the guy that owns the store has a machine that can print off book copies. (Such a machine exists) Do we force the mall owner based on a single complaint to shut down the store? What about the shop owner? What if that author made a mistake and the store was actually paying the fees and it was the publisher cheating the author?

Lets go one step further. The mayor of a town despises it when young men wear pants that are halfway down their butt. Can that mayor shut down WalMart for selling those pants? What if Walmart itself complains about a book store that sells a book named "How to Eliminate the WalMarts and other Super Centers", can they get it blocked from distribution?

Just because an act occurs on the net it doesn't mean that the laws we have now protecting speech, the free press, rules of evidence and so on are no longer in force.

The net changes everything by stretching reality into what has been called cyber space. But, space it still is and the same laws apply, while everything else changes around those laws.
+1 # Glen 2012-01-18 08:54
Great illustration, LiberalLibertarian.

There is far more disruption and money spent due to hackers and all folks related, getting into personal computers, requiring users to have to pay to clean out that computer. Often it can cost as much as $250 to $300 to clean out a computer, or more if the user must buy a new computer. Lately, 5 folks I know have had their computers hacked into, which cost a lot to clean up. They aren't considered important, though, are they. And NOT ONE of these people suggested heavy controls on the internet as a result.

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