24 Hour SOPA Blackout – January 18th
SOPA Blackout – January 18th
Today, January 18th, Super Coupon Girl is “Blacking out” its website for 24 hours in protest of the bills Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011 (PROTECT IP) and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). There will be no new blog posts today, and access to prior posts has been temporarily removed. The site will go back to normal on January 19th.
Why a Blackout?
Today, Super Coupon Girl joins a widespread Internet protest of SOPA and PROTECT IP by going offline. The reason behind this is that if these bills pass, all of our websites will be in danger of possibly being removed permanently. We’re going offline today to raise awareness and give readers an idea of what the Internet could end up looking like, should this legislation pass.
What is SOPA and PROTECT IP?
SOPA and PROTECT IP are proposed legislation meant to crack down on illegal activity and copyright infringement. Unfortunately, the vague wording in these bills could have unintended consequences with disastrous repercussions for legitimate sites and law-abiding citizens, ranging from the removal of legal websites to increased security risks.
It’s Not a Partisan Issue
This isn’t a party issue; Republicans and Democrats alike are opposing these bills (Source). In addition to a large list cited below of lawyers, professors, and technical professionals across the country who oppose SOPA and PROTECT IP, scores of companies are also speaking out against the passage of these bills, from Microsoft (Source) to Google (Source).
Why Super Coupon Girl is Participating in This Blackout
Enforcing copyright in the digital age is an important issue, and people should be duly compensated for their works. My father works in the music industry, while I am a music journalist and frequently promote artists and their works on my other blog, Contest Corner; obviously, proper compensation for this work is an important issue to me! However, the reason that I oppose SOPA/PROTECT IP is that it would inadvertently punish those who are obeying the law – indeed, those of us who are hired to promote musicians and other entertainers could be shut down without any cause, in a “Throwing out the baby with the bathwater” move to stop piracy by shutting down websites in droves, regardless of whether they contain illegal content or not.
What’s Wrong With SOPA/PROTECT IP?
Both of these bills could have serious ramifications for how we use and view the Internet. I’ve highlighted a few key points with sources below, along with links for further reading.
Leading members of the technical and academic communities wrote a paper outlining critical flaws in PROTECT IP. Concerns raised include undermining cybersecurity efforts that the U.S. government itself has gone to great lengths to implement, as well as widespread damage to websites that are NOT engaged in illegal activity. Here is an excerpt:
“For example, blogspot.com uses subdomains to support its thousands of users; blogspot.com may have customers named Larry and Sergey whose blog services are at larry.blogspot.com and sergey.blogspot.com. If Larry is an e-criminal and the subject of an action under PROTECT IP, it is possible that blogspot.com could be filtered, in which case Sergey would also be affected, although he may well have had no knowledge of Larry’s misdealings.” (Source)
So here’s a real-world example. If you’ve been reading Super Coupon Girl for a long time, you may recall that we started out with our site hosted on Blogger, with our original web address being wontbesoonbeforelong.blogspot.com. The potential implication of PROTECT IP is that bloggers such as myself could be in danger of having our sites removed because a totally separate user on Blogger or similar services had violating content, rather than the illegal content being isolated and removed. Intellectual property lawyer D. Alexander Floum, Esq., calls it “Using a sledgehammer when a scalpel is needed”. (Source)
Does this seem far-fetched to you? Supporters of these bills have dismissed these concerns as an overreaction, stating that only those in violation of copyright law will be affected. This is how PROTECT IP defines an infringing site:
” (7) the term `Internet site dedicated to infringing activities’ means an Internet site that–
(A) has no significant use other than engaging in, enabling, or facilitating the–
(i) reproduction, distribution, or public performance of copyrighted works, in complete or substantially complete form, in a manner that constitutes copyright infringement under section 501 of title 17, United States Code;
(ii) violation of section 1201 of title 17, United States Code; or
(iii) sale, distribution, or promotion of goods, services, or materials bearing a counterfeit mark, as that term is defined in section 34(d) of the Lanham Act; or
(B) is designed, operated, or marketed by its operator or persons operating in concert with the operator, and facts or circumstances suggest is used, primarily as a means for engaging in, enabling, or facilitating the activities described under clauses (i), (ii), or (iii) of subparagraph (A);” (Source)
So this should only affect Internet criminals, such as those using unauthorized works, right? Not necessarily. Marvin Ammori, an Affiliate Scholar at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet & Society, wrote a letter to Congress highlighting the dangers of SOPA and PROTECT IP. An excerpt:
“For example, the terms “facilitating” or “enabling” copyright infringement are highly vague, welcome a wide range of degrees of facilitation or enablement, and have no settled meaning in precedent. In their vagueness, they appear to sweep up every social media site for sharing text, video, or data, as well as email, instant-messaging, and Tor and other speech tools. Even in criminal matters, the DOJ claims that “facilitate” covers any linking to a site with infringing content, which is not clear from the use of that word alone.[See Opening Brief and Special Appendix for Petitioner-Appellant Puerto 80 Projects, S.L.U., Puerto 80 Projects, S.L.U. v. United States, No. 11-3390 (2d Cir. Sept. 16, 2011).]” (Source)
This opens up a Pandora’s box of problems. For example, if someone uploads a copyrighted image to Facebook without permission, everything on Facebook could be blocked. And, if linking to a page can be considered “facilitating” copyright infringement, then any of us who have a link to our Facebook profiles could be considered enabling copyright infringement in this scenario.
And the trouble doesn’t stop there. 110 professors of intellectual property, Internet law, innovation, and the First Amendment signed an open letter to Congress opposing PROTECT IP, discussing how this bill would force search engines to censor websites and prompt advertisers and financial institutions to revoke services to a website before it has even been proven to have infringed any laws:
“[PROTECT IP] requires Internet service providers, and operators of Internet name servers, to refuse to recognize Internet domains that a court considers “dedicated to infringing activities.” But rather than wait until a Web site is actually judged infringing before imposing the equivalent of an Internet death penalty, the Act would allow courts to order any Internet service provider to stop recognizing the site even on a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction issued the same day the complaint is filed. Courts could issue such an order even if the owner of that domain name was never given notice that a case against it had been filed at all.
The Act goes still further. It requires credit card providers, advertisers, and search engines to refuse to deal with the owners of such sites. For example, search engines are required to “(i) remove or disable access to the Internet site associated with the domain name set forth in the court order; or (ii) not serve a hypertext link to such Internet site.” In the case of credit card companies and advertisers, they must stop doing business not only with sites the government has chosen to sue but any site that a private copyright or trademark owner claims is predominantly infringing. Giving this enormous new power not just to the government but to any copyright and trademark owner would not only disrupt the operations of the allegedly infringing web site without a final judgment of wrongdoing, but would make it extraordinarily difficult for advertisers and credit card companies to do business on the Internet.” (Source)
On Friday, the authors of both SOPA and PROTECT IP announced that they planned to remove the ISP provision from these bills, but this still does not resolve the myriad of other issues or protect websites from forcibly being blocked by domain name registrars, search engines, or being cut off from advertisers and financial services such as PayPal. (Source) The idea behind these bills is that they are supposed to just target foreign websites, however the vague language of the legislation means that many domestic-run websites could be classed as “Foreign”. (Source, Source)
Voting Takes Place January 24th
SOPA will be reviewed in February (Source) while voting on PROTECT IP will take place on January 24th. (Source) SOPA has “Strong” support, with 80 bipartisan supporters. (Source, source) This is why sites such as this one are blacking out in protest today – it’s critical that Congress gets the message that these bills are flawed.
What You Can Do
The most important thing you can do to stop SOPA and PROTECT IP is to write to your representatives and express your opposition. Click here to visit the U.S. House of Representatives; or, if you’d like a quicker option, you can visit AmericanCensorship.com and fill in their form to email Congress, which takes about 30 seconds.