|Why Should You Fear SOPA and PIPA?
Who would SOPA and PIPA Target First? Huffington Post, Breitbart?
Initially, the simple question of the day is: “What’s so bad about trying to protect movies and music from being pirated?” And, the simple answer is: “Nothing at all.”
But upon further examination, the next and ultimately most important question is: “To what lengths will they (studios and the record labels) go to accomplish their goals?” The answer is also simple. They lobby for the passage of bills that would give the government enough power to not only attempt to stop piracy and fail, BUT while failing would also infringe on free speech, cost millions of jobs and hamper innovation all at the same time. The phrase “can’t see the forest for the trees” has never been so perfectly matched with a real life situation.
The birth of SOPA and PIPA has been established through the efforts of the lobbying arms of the studios and labels The MPAA and RIAA. SOPA or (Stop Online Piracy Act) is in the Senate and PIPA, or (Protect Intellectual Property Act) is in the House. Both bills are essentially the ‘same wolf in sheep’s clothing’ so there is really no need to try and differentiate.
If passed, SOPA and/or PIPA will give the Justice Department the ability to shut down almost any blog or website at will, PLUS it will also do absolutely nothing to stop those that pirate movies or music.
Today the studios and labels rely on DMCA take down notices to handle piracy on websites such as YouTube, Vimeo and Facebook. The DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) allows the website to take down the content within a specific period of time after receiving a DMCA notice without penalty.
In most cases all of the companies mentioned above do a fantastic job, and thus far have not done too much complaining about the costs of implementing technology and resources for a successful DMCA compliance structure. The studios and labels have a much more difficult time with websites such as Piratebay.org or, what the studios would call ‘Rogue’ websites, and it requires a little more knowledge about the details of technology that drives such websites to understand why they are such a complicated issue. Piratebay.org doesn’t actually host any infringing content at all, but has millions of links to content being hosted on peer or nodes. A peer, or node is a personal computer connected to the internet with an open source application based on BitTorrent open source code . BitTorrent allows a person to host a file (movie, music, software etc). Those files are made available for download using a torrent download application which happens to be the same application that hosts the infringing files. When someone downloads a file using a BitTorrent, they are actually receiving that one file from multiple machines that are hosting the same exact file using the same piece of software and then they are many cases, making that file available to be downloaded from their machine and the cycle begins. Those files could be hosted on machines that were located in multiple countries and it is possible that the person hosting the infringing file might not even know they are hosting it. Confusing isn’t it? It is this confusion that it makes things more difficult and more dangerous. Dangerous because, Piratebay.org doesn’t actually host, deliver or infringe on any copyright at all. They only have links to such content, because it shows up in their search engine in the same way search result appear in Googles search engine however, under SOPA and PIPA those sites can not only be prosecuted but shut down entirely for the behavior of others they cannot control. It becomes easier to understand why Google is so interested in SOPA and PIPA. If either act had been passed prior to Googles launch, we would all still be using Yahoo, unless of course the Government hadn’t already shut them down too. The same goes for YouTube and Facebook. What concerns free speech advocates about these laws is even more frightening then losing access to Google.
If the government, and those behind government, didn’t like Huffington Post or Breitbart.com it would now be legally plausible and simple to shut them down. After all, Huffington Post editors at some point in time have posted links to content from CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and other organizations. These networks could now claim that the Huffington Post was infringing upon their copyrights, and that Huffington editors, under SOPA/PIPA, be charged for each offense and go to jail. Yes jail.
“That would never happen” a friend of mine that works at a major studio told me. My response to him was simple. “I have never known a law that gives the government more power that they have not only used but exceeded the laws intent to gain even more power.”
I agree that piracy is a serious problem and between 2001 and 2004 when I testified before Congress, we discussed many solutions, none of which violate our First Amendment Right to Free Speech. I have also worked as an executive at a major studio so I do understand their issues as well however, passage of SOPA or PIPA will essentially allow the Government to shut down the DNS (Domain Name Server) that directed a URL such as www.google.comor www.piratebay.org to the physical address of the server its IP address such as (254.196.2.x). Domain names are simply a fancy and more informative way for you to find a website since the data for a website resides on a server somewhere and that server has a digital address identified by something called an IP or (internet Protocol) address. The Bills target the DNS servers that direct users from the URL name to the IP address. For most users, shutting down an infringing DNS address would prevent them from reaching the website that contained the infringing content or the link to the infringing content. It would NOT however stop the pirate from typing in IP address of (256.196.2.x) as an example, to reach the same content. In short, it wouldn’t stop the pirates from downloading illegal content any more than background checks stop a gang member from purchasing a hand gun. Gang members don’t buy guns legally and Pirates, hackers and criminals never open the legal route either. It’s simply too messy and too easy to get caught. SOPA and PIPA are dangerous, half-baked solutions that will cost millions of jobs, stifle innovation and ultimately do nothing to stop piracy at all. It could be used as a solution for those in Government that seek to silence their opposition, even if that was never the intention. Hollywood has many large donors that are huge contributors to Obama so, even though Harry Reid postponed a vote on the bill, you can bet that they will try to wait for the frenzy to calm down before voting on a somewhat different version of the bill and most likely have a different name than SOPA or PIPA. After all, those names are as about as unpopular as members of Congress right now.
Karen Kotchar (contributed as an editor to this story).