SOPA and PIPA

I wished I was talking about soup or pipes, but not, this is not the case…

Once a week in the mobile market that gets set up close to my parents home in Mexico City (one of hundreds in the city every weekend) and in there, a DVD, CD, and pirate software booth — the proprietor sets up early in the morning and leaves when the market closes in the afternoon. Instead of just offering up ripped DVDs with handwritten titles in paper sleeves, he sells meticulous copies of the entire package from sleeve to disc label, and there are a few legitimate used DVDs thrown in for flavor. If not for the suspiciously low prices and the occasional printing error, you might not ever know the entire operation was operating in brazen defiance of the law.

Stands like these are an important touchpoint when you read or hear about the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, and its sister bill in the U.S. Senate, the Protect IP Act, or PIPA. Both bills attempt to deal with online sites that traffic in illegally copied content, but at extreme cost of remaking the architecture of the internet itself. That’s a high price to pay, especially since neither bill will actually curb real piracy: SOPA and PIPA are the effective equivalent of blowing up every road, bridge, and tunnel in New York to keep people from getting to one bootleg stand in Union Square — but leaving the stand itself alone.

What SOPA and PIPA do

Here’s what the U.S. government can do to foreign websites under even the most narrow reading of SOPA section 102 and PIPA section 3:

  1. Order internet service providers to alter their DNS servers from resolving the domain names of websites in foreign countries that host illegal copies of videos, songs, and photos.
  2. Order search engines like Google to modify search results to exclude foreign websites that host illegally copied material.
  3. Order payment providers like PayPal to shut down the payment accounts of foreign websites that host illegally copied material.
  4. Order ad services like Google’s AdSense to refuse any ads or payment from foreign sites that host illegally copied content.

That’s just the first part. SOPA section 103 and PIPA section 4 require payment processors and ad networks to shut down accounts if they receive the right kind of letter from a copyright owner — a system modeled on the heavily criticized notice-and-takedown provisions of the current Digital Millenium Copyright Act that requires a service like YouTube to pull down infringing content after the copyright owner complains. That system has been abused on occasion, but it ultimately works because it allows YouTube to avoid direct responsibility for the actions of its users — it would have been otherwise sued out of existence.

There’s no such balance of interests for the payment processors or ad networks under SOPA or PIPA: they simply have to block their accounts within five days of getting a letter, unless their accused customer writes back with a letter promising to visit a U.S. court. A site like YouTube would remain protected under copyright law, but become extremely vulnerable to having its finances choked off by overzealous copyright owners under SOPA — imposing a huge additional cost on new startups that host user content and effectively undoing the flawed but effective protections for those services currently in copyright law. Remember the death of Napster or Kazaa? Well, that sort of thing would happen easily, fast and with little research.

Oh, but it gets worse. Much worse. SOPA section 104 offers legal immunity to ISPs that independently block websites that host illegally copied material without any prompting from the government. That’s a major conflict of interest for a huge ISP like Comcast, which also owns NBC — there would be nothing stopping Comcast from blocking a foreign video service that competes with NBC if it could claim it had a “reasonable belief” it was “dedicated to the theft of US property.” And indeed, Comcast is among the companies that support SOPA.

Now, you may have noticed that while all these rules are totally insane, they’re all at least theoretically restricted to foreign sites — defined by SOPA as sites with servers located outside the US. That’s important to know: at its simplest level, SOPA is a kneejerk reaction to the fundamental nature of the internet, which was explicitly designed to ignore outmoded and inconvenient concepts like the continuing existence of the United States. Because US copyright holders generally can’t drag a foreign web site into US courts to get them to stop stealing and distributing their work, SOPA allows them to go after the ISPs, ad networks, and payment processors that are in the United States. It is a law borne of the blind logic of revenge: the movie studios can’t punish the real pirates, so they are attacking the network instead.

So…  What now?

Everyone that knows me can tell you I am not a fan of protests. why? Protests in my life have not made any change, if they have produced a lot of traffic and pollution, still they are a key element for the survival of democracy… limiting the content of the internet in the way these bills purpose to do so is equivalent give a selected group the right to prohibit citizens their right to protest or gather, or telling a newspaper back in the day what they could or could not write.

Remember those moving videos that triggered movement and change during the Egyptian spring last year? Well… someone could say you are not allowed to see them because of the song they play on the background. Maybe you couldn’t even have the kicks watching the laughing baby on Youtube…

A free internet is a key element to ensure the survival of democracy worldwide and to warranty the collective evolution of humankind.

So even if you will not catch me inside any protest, this site was on strike on January 18th 2012, together with thousands of websites that united to protest against the Protect IP Pact making the largest online protest world wide.

And what is there to do? What can you do?

If you are a U.S. Resident… Write Congress! Call Senate!!!

If you are not in the U.S…. Write the State Department.

You can sign the petition of an NGO such as Fight for the Future. It will only take you a few seconds to put your voice behind a critical issue.

Yes my friends, for the love you have to your iPads, iPhones, Androids… for every single person that records themselves playing music of their favourite artists etc etc…. you should do this.

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