The United States Congress is proposing two laws that address the problem of wide-scale unlicensed distribution on the Internet of motion pictures, songs, trademarked goods, and patented pharmaceuticals.
- One of the proposals is called SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and would direct search engines in the United States to block Internet sites outside the United States that are primarily engaged in distributing unlicensed content.
- Another proposal called PIPA (Protect IP Act) would block websites located in the United States as well.
In both proposals, if they became law, the government of the United States would determine on application if a website was primarily engaged in unlicensed distribution. A court might hold a hearing but only if the people who run the website showed up. Otherwise, the site would be blocked by an order directing all websites in the United States with search capabilities or links to refuse to resolve any results or clicks to the blocked address.
Blocking addresses is hard to do without damaging every address on the Internet. The blocking methods suggested in these two proposals would completely confuse existing Internet functions. They would encourage multiple hacks to get around the blocks (and the proposals, it turns out, would be ineffective against very simple work-arounds). Maybe a few copyrights get saved but the price is opening massive wormholes in the Internet permitting hackers to re-direct traffic all over the place -- to malware, spyware, and phishing operations.
Identifying sites that "primarily" infringe on copyrights is full of complexity. Nobody agrees on what "primarily" means. Many sites like Wikileaks and other activist, political, and cultural websites need to copy material that is copyrighted by others who oppose their goals in order to criticize them or to bring important documents into the light. Some organizations, particularly political and religious ones, would use these laws if they were passed to try to block sites that republish controversial writings of a dictator or of a priest that they would prefer to keep under wraps.
Even harmless Internet behavior can be "primarily" an infringing activity: for example, a Tumblr account with still frames taken off of Glee. The unique address of the Tumblr account potentially could be blocked under these proposed laws.
SOPA, which would only block websites outside the United States, is a complete embarrassment to a country that has avidly supported the freedom of all peoples to express themselves openly particularly in the face of oppressive regimes. The role of the Internet in populist liberation movements is well-known and the tools used by these movements come from the people and companies that built the Internet and the Web -- not from motion picture companies and sellers of consumer goods. If the United States blocks websites over a Tom Cruise movie or a Rihanna song, other countries are certain to be encouraged by this to find cultural and political reasons to block websites from the Unites States and will refuse to open their borders, virtual or otherwise.
The Internet that has connected the world would become disconnected under these dangerous proposals.
The Internet is fragile. The worldwide protection of copyrights and trademarked goods is extensive and the laws for them already are powerful. By comparison, laws that protect an open Internet are few and far between.
The compromises that the White House calls for are going to be very difficult to reach. The motion picture studios and record companies are getting actors, directors, and singers to support SOPA and similar measures and have announced that they are not going to back down. Internet users are up in arms and protests are scheduled for January 18, 2012.
The community on deviantART is in a special position. Our members make art -- copyrighted content -- and they want it to be protected. But everyone on deviantART uses the Internet to expose themselves, their work and sometimes their souls to the world and we depend on an open platform for the very existence of the community.
DeviantART as a site and as a company promotes the rights of artists. However, SOPA and PIPA are poor "solutions", and we should all work towards other ways in which to resolve valid concerns about infringing conduct on the Internet that do not potentially harm free speech or the Internet itself.
Joshua S. Wattles (makepictures)
Advisor in Chief
Combating Online Piracy while Protecting an Open and Innovative Internet
Security and Other Technical Concerns Raised by the DNS Filtering Requirements in the PROTECT IP Bill
SOPA Manager's Amendment: It's Still A Blacklist and It's Still A Disaster
MPAA Response to White House Position on Anti-Piracy Legislation
Act Now: This Bill Seriously Screws with the Internet
Make your voice heard:
STOP SOPA Bill by sakimichan
Take a look at the deviantART front page using "Newest" in the Browse to see a remarkable community protest of SOPA and PIPA.
As of January 20th, it now seems that SOPA and PIPA will not move forward through Congress. As previously mentioned, the White House opposed these bills before the protest began in earnest this past Wednesday. The White House reflects the position of the majority of the Democratic Party. Last night at the Republican Party primary debate in South Carolina (watch a video clip here) all of the candidates came out against the bills. The frontrunner, Mitt Romney, was particularly forceful on the notion of an open Internet. In the video you can hear the crowd reactions as being quite negative towards SOPA and PIPA. So both of the major U.S. political parties are now aligned as against the proposals.
Meanwhile, the head of the Motion Picture Association of America has called for the White House to intervene and help big content and big tech reach compromises. See this New York Times article for more information about the issue.
Given the extraordinary grass-roots response to these proposals, almost overwhelmingly negative as reflected in all of the comments to this Journal and others on deviantART, this is a political hot potato everyone in politics will now want to stay away from.