Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Anyone using Wikipedia today will find themselves forwarded to a new page discussing USA legislation that "could fatally damage the free and open Internet".

What's going on? - They're worried about two pieces of legislation known as SOPA and PIPA.

SOPA? PIPA? - The Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act.

Aren't there already anti-piracy laws in place? - Indeed there are.

So why the need for new ones? - Visit the Pirate Bay's legal threats page to see how many US companies threaten a Swedish company with US laws. They're pissed that they have no power over these sites so they've enlisted senators to draft legislation to target foreign sites rather than content.

What's the difference? - If a foreign video service hosted one video out of a million that was deemed to infringe US IP laws the entire site would be removed from US-hosted search engines and blocked by US internet service providers without the need to ever go to trial. [Update - the ISP blocking part has been dropped after it was pointed out that it wouldn't work. Neat trick can we try that tactic with the entirety of the legislation?]

Say what? - The owner of the site may be given a cease and desist order. Upon delivery of such an order rather than upon a verdict the site can then be blocked in the USA in the manner already described.

So the content can be deemed infringing and the entire site blocked without the owner having any opportunity to defend themselves? - Yes. To have the site unblocked it would be up to them to prove otherwise. Oh and of course this would have to be presented in front of a US court (which ironically leaves the owner liable to arrest for IP offences).

But if this only affects foreign sites why are Wikipedia etc. kicking up such a stink? - Because the legislation means that any US company advertising or linking to such a site may become liable themselves. Consider all the external Wikipedia links and Google AdWords that exist and then hold both Wikipedia and Google responsible or ensuring they don't link or appear to 'criminal' sites. There's also concern that this will begin to be applied to domestic sites.

But if this stops piracy isn't a good thing? - Well firstly it's a sledgehammer to crack an egg approach; it's also reminiscent of the Great Firewall of China that prevents citizens from seeing sites deemed 'undesirable' and finally it's unlikely to work as anyone who has tried to remove content from the Internet soon discovers.

If I don't like this what can I do? - If you're a US citizen contact your representatives in the House and Senate and complain. If you're a foreign citizen cross your fingers or write a blog entry in the hopes that US citizens might read it and act. [or visit Stop American Censorship and help point out the hypocrisy of the US State Department condemning internet censorship in other countries but not its own]


Orphi said...

Perhaps more frightening is the post on Failblog where everyone is like “OMG, what's happened to Wikipedia? Why isn't it working? I'll never survive college if they don't get it working again!”

Obviously, it's Failblog. 90% of everything on that site is completely fake in the first place. If any such posts are real, at least some of them were meant in jest.

Even so, you have to worry… how many people are so utterly dependent on Wikipedia that they simply cannot function without it? (I must admit, I tried to use it several times yesterday.)

As regards SOPA and PIPA: As usual with these things, lots of people are like “OMG, how dare they! Obama is the next Hitler!” and lots of other people are like “dude, chill out. Everybody is exaggerating how bad this is.” The truth probably lays somewhere inbetween.

My opinion is that both of these laws are way, way overboard. But it's not like anybody cares what my opinion of the matter is.

Depending on how cynical you are, even if these bills get defeated, others just like them will be drafted again and again until eventually one of them becomes law.

The fundamental problem is, was, and always will be this: Somebody asks a computer to move a file from A to B. The machine has no idea whether that file is freely copyable, protected but legally obtained, or illegally distributed.

You can try to implement any restrictions you like. The pirates will always would out how to get around it. Because, fundamentally, you've built machines that are excellent at copying and distributing stuff, and now you're trying to make them not copy and distribute certain stuff (or only if you say they can). Whatever technological methods you implement, they will never stop piracy. They will however, affect honest law-abiding citizens.

Perhaps rather than making it harder to get stuff illegally, these people should concentrate on making it easier to get stuff legally?

FlipC said...

Heh I used Wikipedia too and then went "Oh yeah - blackout". You're right in that if these pieces of legislation are rejected they'll just crop up again in another format because, as Jon Stewart makes light of, the people legislating don't know how the internet works.

Perhaps we should all embrace Kopimism :-)

Orphi said...

I wonder to what extent the people doing this simply don't know how the Internet works, and to what extent they know damned well that these measures won't work, but allow wonderful possibilities for abuse.

Do they really think this will stop piracy? Or is that just a front?

Orphi said...

Cynicism!! >_<

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