Action Alert: Tell House to “Drop the SOPA” Today
On Thursday, HR 3261, the “Stop Online Piracy Act” or SOPA, will be considered by the House Judiciary Committee. It is strongly supported by Hollywood, but fought by free-speech advocates.
What is SOPA?
The Stop Online Piracy Act is intended to expand upon the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), protecting the intellectual property rights of content creators. Sounds quite reasonable, doesn’t it?
No wonder it’s supported by ABC, ESPN, Sony Music, Time Warner, and others.
So why should I be against SOPA? Do you hate property rights or something?
Not at all. As a content creator myself, I’m well aware of the need to protect one’s property rights, and respect creators’ desire to do so. (While this site has a good share of republished content, everything republished is either by permission or under license.)
The problem with SOPA is that it takes DMCA far too far.
If SOPA becomes law, an individual or company can assert — without evidence — that a website has infringed upon its copyright. Ars Technica explains what happens next:
the new bill gives broad powers to private actors. Any holder of intellectual property rights could simply send a letter to ad network operators like Google and to payment processors like MasterCard, Visa, and PayPal, demanding these companies cut off access to any site the IP holder names as an infringer.
The scheme is much like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s (DMCA) “takedown notices,” in which a copyright holder can demand some piece of content be removed from sites like YouTube with a letter. The content will be removed unless the person who posted the content objects; at that point, the copyright holder can decide if it wants to take the person to court over the issue.
Here, though, the stakes are higher. Rather than requesting the takedown of certain hosted material, intellectual property owners can go directly for the jugular: marketing and revenue for the entire site. So long as the intellectual property holders include some “specific facts” supporting their infringement claim, ad networks and payment processors will have five days to cut off contact with the website in question.
Is that all? Just cut off revenue for an entire site over what could well be an inadvertent infringement, or perhaps an exercise of free speech which someone else didn’t like?
No, that’s not all. Back to Ars Technica:
One thing private actors can’t do under the new bill is actually block a site from the Internet, though it hardly matters, because the government has agreed to do it for them. The bill gives government lawyers the power to go to court and obtain an injunction against any foreign website based on a generally single-sided presentation to a judge. Once that happens, Internet providers have 5 days to “prevent access by its subscribers located within the United States to the foreign infringing site.”
Search engines, too, are affected, with the duty to prevent the site in question “from being served as a direct hypertext link.” Payment processors and ad networks would also have to cut off the site.
Finally, and for good measure, Internet service providers and payment processors get the green light to simply block access to sites on their own volition—no content owner notification even needed. So long as they believe the site is “dedicated to the theft of US property,” Internet providers and payment processors can’t be sued.
How could this possibly be abused? I don’t understand.
Let’s take a look at this article by Justin Vacula. This skeptical blogger has written about a particular chiropractor. In an earlier post on the subject, he also shared scans of documents received from the chiropractor (properly credited, I might add).
The chiropractor’s fiancee has threatened Mr. Vacula with legal action for saying things she doesn’t like about her woo-promoting chiropractor fiance.
Now, imagine if SOPA were to pass. Instead of threatening legal action, she could simply contact his ad server (I spied a Google ad on the site) and have his revenue for the entire site cut off . . . leaving Vacula to fight to prove that his use of the documents fell under Fair Use.
Would he prevail? I assume so. Would she know he would prevail? Most likely. The point would only be harassment. And if enough people who didn’t like what Vacula wrote chose to take the same action, he could well find himself dropped by Google simply because they don’t want the hassle.
Now I get it. SOPA (or Protect IP, the Senate version not yet up for a vote) could be used to suppress Internet speech, not just to protect genuine property rights! What can I do about it?
American Censorship has provided this handy widget. Contact your Representative today!
If the widget doesn’t show up, you can access it by CLICKING HERE.
Learn more about SOPA by CLICKING HERE and scrolling down.
If you don’t want to give American Censorship your telephone number and would prefer to send an email, try THIS LINK.
Finally, if you don’t know who these “American Censorship” people are and don’t want to give them any of your information, contact your Representative through the US House of Representatives website.