Untangling SOPA and PIPA

 Untangling SOPA and PIPA

Yesterday, Forbes reported (and we retweeted) an article stating that President Obama’s opposition to the bills would effectively kill SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act).  This action from the White House spurred the House of Representatives to delay making a decision on SOPA for at least a month.  PIPA (Protect IP Act) is still scheduled to go up for a procedural vote in the Senate on January 24.  These bills, meant to stop online piracy, would censor the Web and impose harmful regulations on American businesses, in particular countless entrepreneurs who make their livelihoods on the internet.

Unfortunately, the wishful thinking of yesterday’s Forbes article has been debunked by a Forbes article today, stating that the “comforting rumble from the White House” only put the bill on hold and that while this is a small victory, there’s still quite the battle ahead.

Today, you have without a doubt noticed the conspicuous black out of sites like Wikipedia, Craigslist, WordPress and Reddit or have seen all your Facebook friends change their profile photos to express their opposition to internet censorship.  The intense opposition comes not only from SOPA’s decidedly anti-free speech spirit, but, more importantly, the intentionally vague language and scope of the bill.   Chris Heald of Mashable dissects the actual text of the bill uncovers some of the SOPA’s more insidious, overreaching and dangerous.

An `Internet site is dedicated to theft of U.S. property’ if [a portion of the site is US-directed] and is used by users within the United States and is primarily designed or operated for the purpose of offering services in a manner that enables or facilitates [copyright violation or circumvention of copyright protection measures].

Still doesn’t sound that bad, but consider this: Any site that allows users to post content is “primarily designed for the purpose of offering services in a manner that enables copyright violation.” The site doesn’t have to be clearly designed for the purpose of copyright violation; it only has to provide functionality that can be used to enable copyright violation.

This means that YouTubeFacebookWikipediaGmailDropbox and millions of other sites would be “Internet sites…dedicated to theft of U.S. property,” under SOPA’s definition. Simply providing a feature that would make it possible for someone to commit copyright infringement or circumvention (see: 09 F9 11 02 9D 74 E3 5B D8 41 56 C5 63 56 88 C0) is enough to get your entire site branded as an infringing site.

We can hardly begin to think of what the impact of such a bill would have on data marketplaces, including our own catalog, which relies heavily on user-submitted and curated data from source such as Wikipedia and Twitter.  It’s easy to imagine the reach of this bill, supported primarily by huge media companies, would go far beyond the original stated intent of ending online piracy and begin to unravel the very fabric of the web.

There are countless sources with information on SOPA, PIPA and their potential (almost, inevitable) threats to freedom on the Internet.  We encourage you to educate yourself about the bills, who supports them, and join us and millions of other voices opposed to crippling innovation.

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