Tuesday, December 13, 2011
SOPA Is Unconstitutional, Would “Criminalize” the Internet, China Is the Model
Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe is one of the top constitutional experts in the country, and wrote one of the main treatises on the subject. Tribe wrote a letter to Congress last week stating that SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) is unconstitutional.
As the Hill notes:
Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law expert at Harvard Law School, argues [SOPA] violates the First Amendment in a memo sent to members of Congress on Thursday.
The bill would empower the Justice Department and copyright holders to demand that search engines, Internet providers and payment processors cut ties with websites “dedicated” to copyright infringement.
Tribe argues the bill amounts to illegal “prior restraint” because it would suppress speech without a judicial hearing.
Additionally, the law’s definition of a rogue website is unconstitutionally vague, Tribe writes.
“Conceivably, an entire website containing tens of thousands of pages could be targeted if only a single page were accused of infringement,” Tribe writes. “Such an approach would create severe practical problems for sites with substantial user-generated content, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and for blogs that allow users to post videos, photos, and other materials.”
Google CEO Eric Schmidt said that the bill would criminalize the Internet:
An online piracy bill in the House would “criminalize linking and the fundamental structure of the Internet itself,” according to Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt.
Schmidt said the controversial [bill] would punish Web firms, including search engines, that link to foreign websites dedicated to online piracy. He said implementing the bill as written would effectively break the Internet.
“By criminalizing links, what these bills do is they force you to take content off the Internet,” Schmidt said, calling it a form of censorship.
He compared the proposal to the Web censorship practiced by repressive foreign governments like China and doubled down on that comparison when speaking with reporters after his remarks at the Economic Club of Washington.
If you’re wondering why lawyers and Hollywood folks would get behind legislation to censor the Internet, you only need to listen to former Senator Chris Dodd [the same guy who killed any chance of financial reform – see this, this, this and this], now the head of the MPAA, who last week explained to Variety that the lobby is only asking for the same kind of power to censor the Internet as the government has in the People’s Republic of China:
“When the Chinese told Google that they had to block sites or they couldn’t do [business] in their country, they managed to figure out how to block sites.”
Even in China they are calling it the “Great Firewall of America.” At least the Chinese are enjoying the irony of the U.S. government moving toward a legal regime that would give it carte blanche to seize and take down websites on the basis of “infringement.” Tech Dirt, the site that reported on the above domain seizure, quotes one Chinese blogger on Sina Weibo subversively commenting on the progress of SOPA and PIPA [the Protect IP Act, which is the Senate version of SOPA] in Congress:
It looks like that we can finally export our technology and value to the Americans. We’re strong, advanced, and absolutely right!
Postscript: Given that Joe Lieberman said that America needs an internet kill switch like China, that the U.S. economy has turned socialist (at least for friends of those with control of the money spigot), and that the U.S. government used communist Chinese torture techniques specifically designed to produce false confessions in order to sell the Iraq war, I guess that the bill’s Chinese-style censorship is not entirely surprising.