by Eric Laberis
Have you heard? Some members of Congress are trying to kill the internet! House Bill 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act (or SOPA) proposes, in theory, to stop pirates from stealing intellectual property. The Senate also has its own bill, S.B. 968, the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) which also aims to stop pirates from stealing protected work online.
Unless you’ve dug a hole in the sand, thrown in your radio, TV, laptop and smart phone, then filled the hole in, you’ve heard of SOPA. Its sponsors and supporters claim it will protect intellectual property, save jobs, give teeth to existing copyright laws and bring back the unicorn. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, SOPA is so scary that even libraries are afraid they could be in trouble if it passes.
SOPA supporters claim it can guarantee that everyone’s rights to what they create are protected. It can ensure that people don’t lose their jobs and put more money in the pockets of people who create for a living. I’m all for that, but SOPA is wrong.
The idea and premise behind SOPA is sound. We do need laws to curb piracy and make sure those who create software, movies and music are properly compensated for the hard work and time they have invested in their product. What we do not need to do is have a law that could potentially turn average, law-abiding citizens and companies into criminals.
Imagine this scenario: You own a company that sells widgets online. Not one widget, but 30,000 different types of widgets. You have a website called www.ISellWidgets.com. You come across an article about one of the widgets you sell, so you post that article on your company website. You include where the article came from and who the author was in order to properly credit the writer. Everyone wins, right? Wrong!
The company that published the article doesn’t like the fact that you used their article, so they file suit under SOPA. Guess what happens next. Instead of being ordered to remove the article, your entire website is blacklisted; everything is gone. Now, because of one article that you gave proper credit about, your entire domain ISellWidgets.com is effectively removed from the internet.
Since your company only exists on the internet, you are effectively out of business. Your website is shut down. The money you spent developing your site, getting it listed high in search engine results is thrown out the window. And to go one step further, any site linking to your site faces the risk of also being removed from the internet.
How is this removal done? Well, that’s a good question. Law enforcement officials would serve service providers such as Comcast, AT&T and other ISPs with papers ordering them to block access to your site. This means that your ISP would have to be involved in the enforcement of the order. They would also be required to make sure that traffic to your site was, in fact, blocked.
How do you make sure traffic to a site is blocked? That’s simple. You monitor the traffic flowing through your system. That’s right, your ISP would have to monitor the sites you, and every other user on their network, were visiting to make sure no one visits any of the blocked sites. This sounds a lot like censorship and invasion of privacy to me.
Please don’t get me wrong. I do believe digital piracy is a huge problem that needs to be dealt with. I believe if you create something, you have the right to be paid for the work and you have the right to protect your work. What I do not believe is that SOPA does this fairly without infringing on my rights to surf where I want without someone tracking my moves online. Don’t take my word on SOPA and its flaws. Boot up your browser and do your own research while you still can.
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by Eric Laberis