SOPA AND PIPA

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On Wednesday, January 18, thousands of websites will go dark to protest the massive Internet censorship bill before Congress right now.

From Ars Technica: Imagine a world in which any intellectual property holder can, without ever appearing before a judge or setting foot in a courtroom, shut down any website’s online advertising programs and block access to credit card payments. The credit card processors and the advertising networks would be required to take quick action against the named website; only the filing of a “counter notification” by the website could get service restored.

It’s the world envisioned by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) in today’s introduction of the Stop Online Piracy Act in the US House of Representatives. This isn’t some off-the-wall piece of legislation with no chance of passing, either; it’s the House equivalent to the Senate’s PROTECT IP Act, which would officially bring Internet censorship to the US as a matter of law.

Calling its plan a “market-based system to protect US customers and prevent US funding of sites dedicated to theft of US property,” 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.

The scheme is largely targeted at foreign websites which do not recognize US law, and which therefore will often refuse to comply with takedown requests. But the potential for abuse—even inadvertent abuse—here is astonishing, given the terrifically outsized stick with which content owners can now beat on suspected infringers.

Not surprisingly, the new bill is getting pushback from groups like NetCoalition, which counts Google, Yahoo, and small ISPs among its members. “As leading brands of the Internet, we strongly oppose offshore ‘rogue’ websites and share policymakers’ goal of combating online infringement of copyrights and trademarks,” said executive director Markham Erickson in a statement.

“However, we do not believe that the solution lies in regulating the Internet and comprising its stability and security. We do not believe that it is worth overturning a decade of settled law that has formed the legal foundation for all social media. And finally, we do not believe that it is worth restricting free speech or providing comfort to totalitarian regimes that seek to control and restrict the Internet freedoms of their own citizens.”

Dozens of law professors have also claimed the original PROTECT IP Act, which contains most of the same ideas, is unconstitutional. But the drumbeat for some sort of censorship is growing louder. source – ARS Technica

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