Today Congress held hearings on the latest IP legislation, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). We are taking part in American Censorship Day to help spread the word and stop this bill. We’ve outlined five of the most important problems with SOPA.
1. SOPA violates due process. Under SOPA, any private copyright or trademark owner can cut-off advertising and payments to any website by alleging that the operator “avoid[ed] confirming a high probability” that “a portion” of its site is being used to infringe copyrights. Advertisers and payment companies (e.g. Visa, Mastercard, and PayPal) are then required to stop doing business with that site. It seems likely that content owners (or people merely claiming to be content owners) will often succeed in shutting down websites without ever going to court. The proposed legislation also gives the Attorney General and the Justice Department the power to shut down websites before they are actually judged infringing. Courts will be able to order any Internet service provider to stop recognizing an accused site immediately upon application by the Attorney General, after an ex parte hearing. By failing to guarantee the challenged websites notice or an opportunity to be heard in court before their sites are shutdown, SOPA violates due process. Read more: Letter to Congress from over 100 law professors techdirt explains that SOPA would create the Great Firewall of America.
2. SOPA censors lawful speech. As described above, the legislation allows any content provider or the Attorney General to accuse a website of promoting infringing content and have that site blocked from the Internet. The legislation’s vague standards for liability mean that the only way for Internet service providers and websites to avoid liability is to over-block content, including non-infringing speech. And by ordering Internet service providers to remove any offending domain name, it would require the suppression of all sub-domains associated with the domain-- censoring thousands of individual websites with vast amounts of protected speech containing no infringing content. Read more: Law professor David Post on SOPA, due process, and speech More coverage from ars technica and techdirt.
3. SOPA breaks the Internet’s infrastructure. By tampering with the Domain Name System (DNS), SOPA breaks Internet security and encourages the development of an insecure, offshore pirate DNS. Read more: Experts explain why SOPA's DNS filtering provisions raise such serious technical and security concerns. techdirt concludes that SOPA's collateral damage will be significant.
4. SOPA blows up the safe harbor. Under existing law, providers are shielded from liability for their users’ possible copyright infringement so long as they remove allegedly infringing material when they get complaints. SOPA turns this system upside down. Under SOPA, content owners can require advertisers and payment companies to stop doing business with any website that allegedly has any portion used to infringe copyrights or trademarks. Content owners will have the power to shut down websites without ever going to court. Read more: Public Knowledge explains why SOPA is a DMCA bypass. EFF illustrates how SOPA could be used to strangle sites that have been found to be legal. techdirt concludes that SOPA is the end of the internet as we know it.
5. SOPA kills innovation. By vastly increasing the risks associated with hosting user-generated content, SOPA will make it far more difficult to start new internet companies. If SOPA had been the law, it is doubtful that Facebook or YouTube would have been able to launch. Read more: Letter to Congress from internet and technology companies Letter to Congress from dozens of venture capitalists Letter to Congress from OpenDNS Brad Burnham on SOPA and innovation Union Square Ventures explains how SOPA will slow start-up innovation and what you can do about it.