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November 22, 2011

The Advent of Internet Censorship in America – A SPN Exclusive Article

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UPDATE ON SOPA
Matt Cutts Blog – Progress against SOPA
CNet – How SOPA would affect you: FAQ
TechDirt – Microsoft’s Cold Feet Over SOPA Behind BSA’s ‘Rethinking’ Its Views

Question: What does it take to get bitter rivals, Google and Facebook – the two most popular and powerful entities on the planet, to put aside their differences and join forces for a
common cause?

Answer: Internet censorship in America, or the threat thereof.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past month or so, you’ve no doubt been hearing on TV news, and reading in newspapers and on blogs about a controversial new bill called SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act).

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), also known as H.R.3261, was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on October 26, 2011 by Representative Lamar Smith [R-TX] and a bipartisan group of 12 initial co-sponsors. The aim of the bill is to help U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders fight online transmission of restricted intellectual property. (Source: Wikipedia)

Serious First Amendment Ramifications

New bills that police the Internet get passed all the time, so why all the commotion over this bill? Because this particular bill has serious first amendment ramifications – a potential encroachment of free speech. Even famed attorney and constitutional law expert Floyd Abrams, a paid advocate for supporters of the bill, admits SOPA would censor protected speech. In a letter sent to House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith and Ranking Member John Conyers, Abrams writes:

“Regardless of the particular standard or definition of foreign infringing sites, court-approved remedies under the Stop Online Piracy Act may result in the blockage or disruption of some protected speech. As discussed above, the bill provides a range of injunctive relief…, with a court making the final determination as to whether and how to craft relief against a website operator or owner or third party intermediaries. When injunctive relief includes blocking domain names, the blockage of non-infringing or protected content may result.” (Source:Techdirt.com )

Goodbye Internet Freedom

Opponents of the bill (including yours truly) think the bill would fundamentally change the Internet as we know it – and not for the better. Let me explain.

The idea behind SOPA came about as a way to try to eliminate piracy on the Internet. According to a recent article on PCWorld.com, online piracy costs the U.S. economy $58 billion in losses every year, including 373,000 jobs. And while I agree online piracy is indeed a serious problem that needs to be addressed, the excessive and invasive measures contained in SOPA are simply the wrong approach. The bill would unduly and randomly grant content owners the power of censorship.

That’s right, if SOPA were passed, content owners would have the power to obtain court injunctions to block access to certain websites that were simply considered “copyright infringement friendly.”

For example, if my website, Free-Marketing-Tips-Blog.com happened to have content that could be interpreted as “piracy-friendly,” my domain name could be blocked so it would be inaccessible by visiting my URL address. What the bill can’t do, however, is block numeric IP addresses. So if I were indeed a pirate, you could still access my website, or any other censored website for that matter, if you had their IP address. And while SOPA might discourage casual pirates, more determined and sophisticated hardcore pirates would likely not be dissuaded – at least not to any significant degree.

Why? Because the business of piracy is much too lucrative to be deterred by such measures. It’s sort of like burglar-proofing your front door… burglars will just come in through the back door.

Effective at Censorship

So essentially, the bill would be ineffective at what it was specifically designed to do – eliminate piracy. But would likely be very effective at censoring any suspected websites – even if the offense is unwitting and something as minor as you or one of your friends posting a copyrighted image to your Facebook page.

Heck, even a seemingly innocuous comment in a blog post could be considered piracy friendly. How preposterous is that?

There is also a concern the bill would stifle critically important technical innovation and job creation by overturning existing laws that were catalysts for the technological boom of the last decade; which could prove damaging to an already fragile and slow recovering economy.

Add to the equation the fact the bill has such vague standards and sweeping language, and you can begin to understand why so many people are up in arms over the bill.

Powerful Opposition

How strong is opposition to SOPA? According to an article on the blog PureVPN.com titled Protest Against SOPA Bill Reaches a Fever Pitch

“An open letter against the SOPA bill was jointly written by the industry giants including Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, eBay, Mozilla, Yahoo, Zynga and AOL. The letter addressed the congressional sponsors of the bill urging them to reconsider the measures and it appeared as a full-page ad in The New York Times on Wednesday.

Apart from this letter a lot of other websites are protesting against this bill in their own way. For example Reddit, Firefox and Tumblr drew broad black lines on their websites to protest against this proposed law. When a user logs in at Tumblr he gets to see that all user-generated content has been blacked out. When users click on the gray lines to investigate, a message appears which tells them about the bill and encourages them to oppose it. Reddit and Mozilla have censored their logos which click through to instructions for contacting representatives.”

Even the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden has spoken out against the bill in a remarkably compelling speech on Internet Freedom.

So What’s Next?

At the time of writing this article, the bill currently sits in the House Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet. It has yet to be introduced to the floor for a vote. A sham hearing on the bill took place on Wednesday, November 16, 10:00 a.m. in the House Judiciary Committee.

Why was the hearing a sham? Because present at the hearing were parties overwhelmingly supportive of the bill, including Pfizer, MasterCard and MPAA, while Google was the only party present allowed to voice opposition. Talk about a stacked deck.

Will the Bill Pass?

Despite the tendentious hearing, Reuters is reporting that Darrell Issa, the Republican congressional
representative for California, has said that there is no way that SOPA will pass.

“There is a very broad coalition from far left to far right who realise this will hurt innovation, something we can’t afford to do. And there are other ways to accomplish what they say is their goal.

“I don’t believe this bill has any chance on the House floor. I think it’s way too extreme, it infringes on too many areas that our leadership will know is simply too dangerous to do in its current form.”

Conclusion

While Darrell Issa’s statement might seem like good news on its face, my position is, I’ll believe it when I actually see the bill die in the House. Remember, we’re dealing with politicians on both sides who are bought and paid for by corporate interests. Don’t take Internet freedom for granted. If you are against the SOPA bill, I urge you to take action by contacting your members of congress and voicing your opposition to SOPA today!


David Jackson is a marketing consultant, and the owner of Free-Marketing-Tips-Blog.com – Powerful, free marketing tips to help grow your business! http://free-marketing-tips-blog.com

8 Responses to “The Advent of Internet Censorship in America – A SPN Exclusive Article

    avatar Former Marine says:

    David; this is another interesting article and a surprise it appeared before Friday again – *grin*.

    I’ve heard of this already and hope / wish those KOLEGE EDUKATED MORE-ONS on the Hill would do the jobs they were elected to do and leave the Internet alone.

    Granted, piracy has been around for thousands of years in one form or another, so attempting to pass another ignorant bill like this won’t solve the problem.

    One surprising word that caught my eye was “Zynga” – never heard of it until now.

    I did send an email to you and haven’t heard back; maybe it’s in your Spam folder.

    Until next time, I wish you; your family and all who come here a VERY BLESSED THANKSGIVING & MAY GOD RICHLY BLESS ALL OF YOU!

    avatar Former Marine says:

    Arrgghh David; I checked my folder and there wasn’t a single thing in there, nor in the Inbox.

    Perhaps try again sometime, and thank you for the warm wishes about Thanksgiving!

    avatar JMW says:

    This is about more than just piracy.
    The fundamental question is “should he internet be regulated?”
    Yes. Too many people recognise a need for regulation for regulation not to happen.
    The issue then is how to go about getting fair and sensible regulation.

    The trouble with any legislation is in three main areas:
    How it is drafted
    How it is interpreted
    How it is enforced

    Oh, and we also have a problem with the internet which is how to project the regulation cross boundary.
    We need regulation and legislation. Frankly I am surprised the internet has lasted so long so as unregulated and uncontrolled as it is.
    Yes, it was a nice Hippy style pipe-dream that internet was a great agent of freedom above and beyond government control.
    But the reality is that government is there to help protect a society and that where there is no law the outlaws take control.

    In any society there is a need for laws and regulations. What doesn’t work are voluntary codes of practise. So some form of legislation is required and very necessary.

    If there are problems with the way the law is being drafted then the approach should be a constructive one that seeks to help create a piece of legislation that is effective. This is the most critical area, and making sure the legislation impacts on those it is intended to target and does not create collateral issues with innocent parties.

    Opposing the legislation disengages interested parties and results in bad legislation with plenty of unintended consequences that then takes forever to correct.

    Simply opposing legislation is doomed from the start.
    In this case and quite legitimately there is an evident need to address piracy.
    Accept that.
    Please.
    Engage with the legislators to make good laws.

    Hollywood survived because it recognised the threat to close all movie theatres and ban films and that necessitated some compromises.
    Hollywood found a solution in the Hayes self-censorship but they were faced with an outright ban (just as alcohol was banned)and needed to keep movie industry going. Look at it today.

    We need the internet but arguing about “ideals” isn’t going to save it.
    This time no one wants to ban the internet, they want to regulate it.
    I am all for regulation.

    What is interesting is how much upset there is over government legislation which is on behalf of the people, but so little real response about commercial agreements such as the alleged agreements between Google and the Chinese government – an undisclosed agreement and not legislation but a commercial agreement intended at censorship.

    It is not protection of any rights normally provided in law but that are by-passed by “internet freedoms”.
    But that is the situation here.
    The internet has become a means for lawbreakers to profit and violate laws we normally consider fair and just and necessary.

    The trouble with cross boundary legislation is how to implement it.
    How do you prevent people in other countries violating your own laws?
    The internet is certainly a cross boundary medium which allows operators in Romania, for example, to run fraudulent ticket scams or sell pirated media with an unacceptable degree of immunity.

    One way they tried to address internet gambling was to make it illegal for credit card companies to honour payments to such organisations.
    That seems a pretty effective way forward in any activity that involves payment for pirated goods.
    But the point is that it provides a means to extend influence of national legislation beyond national boundaries.
    But what is also needed is a way to get other countries to agree to similar measures. We are faced with a cart before the horse here. We usually see treaties first then national legislation aligned with the terms of the treaties.
    But we also see unilateral legislation to start the ball rolling.
    We see this type of thinking at work in Treaty making on pollution, for example.

    All laws have some degree of collateral damage which depends then on how they are interpreted and enforced.
    Bad laws are subject to subsequent revision to correct for any miscarriages of justice. The Prohibition amendment was later repealed.
    Bad effects will last only a short time, especially if there is engagement between those who use the internet and the legislators.

    Frankly, a bad law is far to be preferred to no law because a bad law can be adapted.

    And if I am worried about anything it is hacking, about worms, trojans, viruses etc. and the same problem of “reach”. With a global medium we need the means to close off any “safe havens”.
    I want more legislation so I can enjoy my “freedoms”.

    At the moment an unregulated Internet provides the greatest opportunity to those who respect nothing and no one. So legislation is necessary and to be effective it must be able to impact beyond national boundaries.

    The thing with badly drafted legislation is how it is implemented. It depends on how much you trust the government implementing it to make corrections as defects appear in reality and not just anticipation, and the guidance given on enforcement.
    Frankly we need a solid start on regulation so that the ordinary user has some peace of mind and some security. And so that what is fair and just in national legislation is as fair and just and affective as it can be when applied to the internet.

    Freedom of speech is not denied
    (and the “freedom of speech argument is about akin to Godwin’s law).
    What may be denied is access to a global population. The right to free speech does not guarantee a right to widespread dissemination of those views and the old argument about shouting fire in a crowded theatre comes to mind.
    We have to be wary of overzealous interpretation of old laws as well as new.
    Yes, I suggest this is a corollary of Godwin’s Law.

    The thing is that we need to be concious that any start on internet legislation is just that, a start. There are a lot of areas where rigorous and robust legislation is required and many many areas of concern to ordinary users.
    Ideals are fine until reality kicks in.
    The internet needs effective regulation. We don’t have it now so we need to engage with the legislators to help ensure we get legislation that benefits the “ordinary citizen user”.

    So I am also pretty concerned by the disclosure about how search engines work, the fact that filters may actually serve to polarise populations is a bit worrying and this is quite beyond our control at the moment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8ofWFx525s – this is a TED presentation on “Filter Bubbles”.

    Former Marine, I did receive and replied to your e-mail yesterday morning. Check your spam folder.

    In my reply, I wished you and your family a safe and happy Thanksgiving! I do so again here. :)

    avatar sinip says:

    Well, USA is getting less and less “the country of the free”, and that is not news for anyone OUTSIDE USA. I presume that the majority of the world couldn’t care less if that bill would get passed or not, because majority of the world (Russia, India, China, Africa, Eastern Europe, Middle and Far East) couldn’t care less what happens with the Internet in USA. If someone from USA think that Internet should be regulated, I have a big news for them – IT CAN NOT. If by any chance USA would disappear from the Internet map tomorrow, nothing would change, except certain (big) number of websites would disappear. Internet would continue to operate, domains would continue to exist. Because even if ICANN (read USA) starts shutting down domains under its control, noone can do anything against national domains, and noone can do anything against internet infrastructure in abovementioned countries. So, for the rest of the world, this can only be one huge “entertainment in futility”, and nothing else than that. Actually, the rest of the world would on the long run benefit from that law, because hosting companies would start pulling out of USA, and moving to the really free parts of the world, thus leading to the improvement in internet infrastructure and increase of revenue in those parts of the world.
    A bit long reply, but I hope it was worth it. :-)

    JMW, specifically, are you for or against SOPA?

    What I don’t understand is why it has taken google and co so long to make a stand. This bill has been doing the rounds for a while and Demand Progress has been campaigning against it for months.

    As you say, it doesn’t even prohibit the actions that it claims to want to prevent as it doesn’t include blocking numeric IPs. Serious criminals or pro-piracy groups will always be able to subvert actions like this so to me it really does just seem like a way to police the internet to protect the commercial interests of a select few. Clamping down on net freedom and creativity could ultimately end up costing a lot more than the billions lost to piracy.

    avatar Mike A. says:

    IMHO, a very poorly conceived law. But as sinip points out, there may be a silver lining:
    “Actually, the rest of the world would on the long run benefit from that law, because hosting companies would start pulling out of USA, and moving to the really free parts of the world, thus leading to the improvement in internet infrastructure and increase of revenue in those parts of the world.”

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