Monday, January 16, 2012
Amid significant pressure from tens of thousands of internet users and major web behemoths like Google, Facebook, and Reddit, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is, in its current form, Dead on Arrival:
Misguided efforts to combat online privacy have been threatening to stifle innovation, suppress free speech, and even, in some cases, undermine national security. As of yesterday, though, there’s a lot less to worry about.
The first sign that the bills’ prospects were dwindling came Friday, when SOPA sponsors agreed to drop a key provision that would have required service providers to block access to international sites accused of piracy.
The legislation ran into an even more significant problem yesterday when the White House announced its opposition to the bills. Though the administration’s chief technology officials officials acknowledged the problem of online privacy, the White House statement presented a fairly detailed critique of the measures and concluded, “We will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.” It added that any proposed legislation “must not tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet.”
Though the administration did issue a formal veto threat, the White House’s opposition signaled the end of these bills, at least in their current form.
A few hours later, Congress shelved SOPA, putting off action on the bill indefinitely.
Sponsored primarily by purported free speech advocates that include democrats and republicans alike, the SOPA would have fundamentally transformed the internet as we know it today. As Daisy Luther writes at Inalienably Yours, the bill was nothing short of a direct attack against the first Amendment and the right to free speech:
On closer inspection, the legalese in the bill has the potential to eviscerate free speech….and like NDAA, without proof…only with suspicion of “wrong-doing”. It’s all about copyright infringement. If you tick off the powers that be, and you’ve quoted someone, somewhere, saying something, you may have infringed on their copyright. As a defendant, you are not even present at the legal proceeding allowing “them” to shut you down until you prove yourself innocent.
How do they shut you down? Search engines are required to remove you from their listings. Internet Service Providers can be ordered to block access to your site. Advertising networks and payment providers can also be forced to cease doing business with you. This continues until you are proven INNOCENT. Wait – I thought it was innocent until proven guilty….oh….that was “before” the NDAA.
While this bill of goods was being sold to the American public as a way to reduce online piracy originating on foreign shores, in essence the legislation would have made it possible for any organization (with the financial assets and access to attorneys to do so) to target web sites (foreign or domestic) using excerpts, quotes, and videos without express permission of the authors or producers of such content. Furthermore, any web site linking to suspected copyrighted content would be guilty by association for fascilitating the infringement.
By linking to and excerpting Daisy’s article above, for example, this particular web site, and anyone who republishes this article, excerpts it, or pulls a link from it, could be shut down on the service provider level until such time they prove their innocence.(*Note to DHS, et. al.: Daisy has given us permission to reprint her article or portions of it, and the excerpt from Washington Monthly has been reprinted under Fair Use to advance understanding of this political and Constitutional issue*)
The scariest part of the legislation, as Daisy points out above, is that due process would have been eliminated (just like in the NDAA), forcing internet providers, search engines and ad networks to simply shut down a web site(s) based on just the complaintant’s accusations, leaving those web site owners who were shut down to deal with the fallout with costly legal expenses and lengthy court battles.
You may recall that in 2010 the government shut down 73,000 web sites in exactly this manner. Though the owners of the majority of the targeted sites were not technically infringing copyrights, some were linking to other sites that did, making them an accessory.
Even more alarming is the ability, under legislation such as SOPA, of the government to control the flow of information across major internet providers. Articles or videos criticizing political figures or policies could easily be targeted, as they were in October of this year when the government moved to shut down rogue publishers of critical content .
What it boils down to is that SOPA was an attempt to put the power of information back in the hands of an elite few who are rapidly losing the ability to control what the masses are reading, hearing and seeing. Alternative news and ‘extremist’ information was the target (and still is).
While we applaud President Obama (yes, we agree with him on this move) for formally issuing a veto threat, we remain skeptical of his motivations. This being an election year, the last thing the President needs to be dealing with along with the economic crisis and tensions in the middle east, is the protests of millions of voters who would have undoubtedly taken to the streets when access to their favorite web sites like Youtube, Google, Facebook, and Twitter were shut down because of alleged SOPA violations.
Moreover, we aren’t one bit convinced that this veto was done in the interests of free expression, as the administration may claim. In November, the President issued a similar veto threat about the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which allows for the detention of American citizens determined to be threats to national security and public safety on the domestic (U.S.) battlefront. He flip-flopped on the issue just a couple of weeks later, and signed the bill into law over New Year’s weekend to complete silence from the mainstream media.
It is our view that SOPA, in one form or another, will return with a vengeance.