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Stop Online Piracy Act

Debate is currently raging over HR 3261, the Stop Internet Piracy Act (SOPA). Internet titans such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Zynga, and Mozilla recently placed a full page ad in the New York Times arguing that it will “pose a serious risk to … innovation and job creation.” Conversely, the Business Software Alliance, which includes Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, and MathWorks (which produces MatLab), supports SOPA, although many of its constituent companies have not done so directly.
SOPA is intended to prevent piracy of intellectual property by giving the government the power to enact the following restrictions [1]:

  • “Internet Service Providers would have to prevent access to the site, including not resolving requests for the site’s domain name (akin to calling directory assistance for a phone number and getting a false response).
  • Search engines would have to remove links to the site.
  • Payment networks would have to prevent payments to the site from U.S. customers.
  • Advertising networks would have to stop serving ads either on or about the site.”
The restrictions on Domain Name Services (DNSs) are particularly troubling. (A DNS server is what converts a string like “http://www.google.com” into “http://72.14.204.103/”.) If Google was to host pirated content, under SOPA the government could force DNS servers to not resolve “www.google.com” into an address that a web browser could connect to. However, this is easily circumvented by just typing in the IP address manually, or using a foreign DNS that the US does not have jurisdiction over. Another issue is that forcing a DNS to reject connections to one domain would effect all subdomains: if nyan.tumblr.com is hosting illicit content, then DNS filtering would block all of Tumblr, which includes many legitimate blogs.
Similarly, demanding that ISPs prevent access to certain sites would require that the ISPs violate users’ privacy by tracking and filtering all their activity.
The companies that are protesting SOPA are those that gain from piracy instead of suffering from it. If someone posts a pirated clip of Inception on YouTube, Google gets money from ad revenue. Under SOPA, Google would be responsible for a great level of self-policing, and would stand to lose more ad revenue if its platform is found to be enabling users to share illegal content. Platform providers like Google would argue that there is already an established process for dealing with copyright infringing user-generated content: the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which has allowed “user-driven sites [to] flourish [for] more than 10 years”.
The companies that support implicitly support SOPA, such as Microsoft and Apple, are those who stand to lose more due to piracy. Unlike Google and Facebook, which sell targeted user impressions to advertisers, Microsoft and Apple sell software to consumers. (From personal experience, I can confirm that many students consider paying for MathWorks’ Matlab to be a complete waste of money when pirated copies are available for free.) If SOPA helps those companies to make money off of their innovation and investment, it makes sense for them to support it. Entertainment and media companies, which lose a great deal of money on piracy, also are in favor of SOPA.
Ultimately, it seems that protecting intellectual property is important. If someone produces content, they should be compensated according to the benefit that others see in it. However, it seems that SOPA is too blunt a tool, and would harm innovation of Internet-based services. It also provides a worrying precedent to other countries that seek to censor the Internet based on less admirable goals, like suppressing freedom of (or from) religion.

[1] Dangerous Bill Would Threaten Legitimate Websites
[2] Fanboys Are Very Upset About Apple’s Tacit SOPA Support
[3] Sandia National Laboratories report on technical aspects of SOPA

Comments

2 Responses to “ Stop Online Piracy Act ”

  • Kelly Miller

    Ridiculous! This is why our country is spiraling into debt. Not enough thought is taken into consideration before these bills are even proposed. They are shotgunned through the process and after the fallout settles, we spend countless taxpayer dollars and wasted time that could be applied to fixing real social-economic problems trying to figure out how to repeal these dumb laws in the first place. We already have countless ways around being traced and can encrypt our hard drives to the point where the information is useless in court. If someone really wants to infringe on copyrighted material, the internet will always provide a way no matter how hard the government nannies try to prevent it. This will be new new drug war of this millennium. Another failed government attempt to stop an unstoppable force.

  • Norbert

    Interesting article.

    I believe in the long run, this SOPA type of behaviour by the US government will hurt the overall economy of the States.

    More and more online e-commerce businesses will be considering moving their hosting to European based Web hosting companies. This will only hurt the overall economy structure of the US.

    Thanks.

    Norbert

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