Thousands of Web sites have pledged to go dark today in opposition to pending anti-piracy bills currently making their way through Congress. Reddit, Wikipedia, Mozilla, and WordPress are just a few of the sites that will be inaccessible on Wednesday in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA).
The bills would allow the Justice Department to obtain a court order and go after overseas, “rogue” Web sites that traffic in fake goods, from purses to prescription drugs. The DOJ could have these sites removed from search engines, while copyright holders could have the agency target sites they believe to contain infringing content. Detractors believe SOPA and PIPA are too broad and could have unintedned consequences for legitimate sites.
Most are in agreement that something needs to be done about Web sites offering pirated goods, but how exactly to accomplish that goal remains a sticking point. SOPA sponsor Rep. Lamar Smith argued yesterday that the U.S. needs legislation “that protects consumers, businesses and jobs from foreign thieves who steal America’s intellectual property.” But consumer groups, Web sites, tech giants, members of Congress, entrepreneurs, and more are not convinced, voicing concern with a variety of provisions in the bill. Here’s a look at five that have been on their minds in recent days.
Anti-Circumvention: In a Monday blog post, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) took issue with several provisions in both bills, including one that would “target sites that simply provide information that could help users get around the bills’ censorship mechanisms.” That, EFF argued, amounts to “unconstitutional prior restraint against protected speech.” Marvin Ammori, a First Amendment lawyer, suggested that “social media sites like Facebook or YouTubebasically any site with user generated contentwould have to police their own sites, forcing huge liability costs onto countless Internet companies.”
Immunity: During a Tuesday conference call with reporters, Sherwin Siy, deputy legal director for Public Knowledge, took issue with the fact that SOPA/PIPA provide blanket immunity to those who take voluntary action against suspected copyright infringers. “Both of these bills provide immunity to intermediaries who act against suspected infringers. They could cut someone off and not be liable for any infringement,” Siy said. “All they have to do is say they acted in good faith and say they have reasonable evidence of infringement.” EFF dubbed it the “vigilante provision” and suggested corporations might use it to stamp out rivals.
Broad Definitions: Similarly, opponents claim the definitions in the bill are far too broad and could be used against legitimate sites and businesses. “The definition of ‘foreign infringement site’ includes not just sites that are dedicated to or even primarily focused on infringement, but rather any site that ‘facilitates’ it,” the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) argued last year.
Job Killer: During a Tuesday appearance at an event (video) sponsored by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian argued that bills like SOPA and PIPA could seriously hurt tech innovation and our economy. “There is no other industry in the world where you can take an investment that is less than the cost of a Ford Focus, put it toward a few college students with a good idea, and have a billion dollar company a few years later,” Ohanian said. “As an entrepreneur, the success that Steve [Huffman, Reddit-co-founder] and I had simply could not have happenedReddit.com, Twitter, Facebook, all these sites that are indispensable, even for politicians, sort of ironicallycould not have happened if these laws were in place.”
Domain Name System (DNS) Blocking: Initially, SOPA included a provision that allowed for the DOJ to obtain a court order and demand that an ISP block an infringing site. Amidst backlash, however, Rep. Smith removed DNS blocking from his bill, so it’s no longer an issue in SOPA. It remains in PIPA at the moment, though Leahy has said he’d like to study the ramifications before implementation. The White House, however, is against it. “Proposed laws must not tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet through manipulation of the Domain Name System (DNS), a foundation of Internet security,” the administration said on Saturday. Leonard Napolitano, Jr. with Sandia National Labs, meanwhile, argued that DNS blocking wouldn’t even be effective. “Even non-technical users could learn to bypass filtering by learning through forums, social networking [or] downloadable plugins,” he wrote in November letter.
Is there anything that you’re concerned about in SOPA or PIPA? Is there anything that the two sides can agree upon? Let us know in the comments.
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Article source: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2399008,00.asp