... or else you could find many of the sites you use on a regular basis permanently closed to you. And maybe find your sites closed to many of your regular visitors.
SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) is a bill currently in the US Congress that would allow the US Government to add sites to a blacklist, preventing anyone in the United States from accessing them. The stated goal is to limit access to pirate ("warez") sites, and sites that sell counterfeit physical products. Fake Rolexes, designer clothes, prescription drugs, etc.
The intent of the bill is something we strongly support. Piracy affects those of us in the Warrior group more than most, as a lot of us make our livings selling our own intellectual property. Our membership includes tens of thousands of authors, musicians, graphic designers, photographers, programmers, copywriters, videographers, public speakers and others, from nearly every creative field.
We feel the impact of digital thievery first hand.
This bill is not the way to handle the problem. It is a disaster in the making.
It would damage the Internet's basic security infrastructure, possibly require ISPs to monitor every site you visit, and make the operation of any website that contains user-generated content (blogs, forums, digital marketplaces, and social media sites) too risky for investors and new developers.
Wikipedia has posted a good basic summary of the potential problems. Read it. It is frightening. And you need to be scared.
How It Would Work
Here's the simple version: If the Justice Department or any copyright holder accused a site of "encouraging or facilitating" piracy, the government could order that site removed from US-based search engines and ad networks, forbid payment processors from handling transactions for them, and require ISPs to block access to those sites by their customers.
Let's consider how that might apply to this forum... There are currently over 335,000 pages on this site. If just one of those pages contained a single post promoting an illegal download, or one WSO seller has used graphics or code from a copyrighted product without permission, or we miss just one Chinese spam for counterfeit goods, we could be blocked.
Would it matter that we actively look for and delete those posts? Maybe, but only after the process had begun. And we'd probably never know about it until the block was in place.
The amount of time that it would take to correct such an unjustified blocking would cause permanent damage to any interactive site. Shifting the membership away from a destination for that long nearly guarantees the site would never recover.
Along with that, there is no requirement that payment processors re-accept a site that has been blocked this way. You know how these guys work: They don't care if the site is eventually found innocent. They'd label it as "high risk," and never deal with it again. And they'd probably start creating whole new categories to lock out, just to avoid the headaches.
"You let visitors post on your site? Sorry. We don't accept interactive services in our network."
And, unless the ISPs are working from a centralized and regularly updated database, it's unlikely most of them would ever remove the blocks once they were in place.
Mistakes would almost certainly be fatal to the target sites. We're talking about legitimate sites that provide real value for their visitors and real incomes for their operators and their families.
It is unclear at this point whether the legislation would affect sites based in the US, or if it applies only to "foreign" sites. Even if it doesn't start out applying to sites hosted in the United States, do you really think it will stay limited to "offshore sites" for long?
And how do we justify sitting by while our friends around the world are subjected to this potential for arbitrary blocking within the US?
Don't Think This Will Affect You?
Maybe you aren't involved in a market where this would seem to matter, and you're not interested in the principle of the thing. Consider a few possible examples that might make the reach of this Congressional folly clearer.
Any blogs you like? Keep in mind how many of them are hacked every day. One of the main activities for those hackers is pointing the victim sites to online shops selling illegal drugs.
Hang out at any scrapbooking sites? A lot of them let the members share their original page themes and other digital scrapbooking elements. If one clueless designer uses graphics from a catalog or other copyrighted source, your fun little hobby community could be taken away from you. And the site owner could lose their income.
Use shareware or freeware? Legitimate software libraries, like CNet's, would be prime targets. After all, it only takes one mistake.
Do you surf using proxies to protect your privacy? Forget that. It's only a matter of time before that's marked as a refuge for pirates and they're blocked.
Have you ever tried to keep track of which sites are pirating your products? If you live in the US, you can forget that, too. Once they hit the blocklist, you can't see them. Which means you can't take any action to reduce the damage.
That's just the tip of the virtual iceberg.
The real damage will begin when the pirates implement new systems for distributing their warez. Evading a domain-based list is child's play for experienced people, and pirates really don't care if it's illegal. If they did, they wouldn't be pirates.
And it won't just be the traditional pirates who join in. Anyone who's studied history knows that prohibition just romanticizes the suppliers and users, and creates networks dedicated to serving that "heroic" image.
And, of course, there's the problem of retribution. If the US starts arbitrarily blocking access to foreign sites from within our country, how long do you think it will be before other countries develop similar approaches to advancing their political goals, and block their citizens from accessing sites they don't deem suitable?
At that point, it isn't even nominally about piracy any more. It's about politics, pure and simple. If you doubt the temptation, consider how quickly nations in the Middle East tried to block their citizens from accessing western social networks at the first sign of unrest over the past few years.
Think about how this would look to the world after all our comments about the Chinese "Great Firewall."
If you believe our bureaucrats would be careful enough to only list sites that existed for the sole purpose of piracy, remember: These are the same bureaucrats who listed a then-sitting US Senator (the late Edward Kennedy, of MA) on our anti-terrorist "no fly" list.
What's your recourse if someone accuses you of "encouraging or facilitating" piracy and you're found to be innocent? Good luck with that. The only way you could get any satisfaction there would be if you could prove they wilfully and knowingly made false allegations.
Ask your lawyer what the chances are of proving that. Be prepared from them to laugh and say "Zero."
This is the single most dangerous piece of legislation to regulate the Internet that has ever had any real chance of becoming law in the US.
What Can You Do?
If you live in the US, contact your Senators and Representatives and encourage them to vote against SOPA (H.R. 3621) and PIPA, the Senate version (S. 968).
When you contact them, be calm, clear, and concise. Tell them that you support the goal but oppose the legislation, because of the damage it will do to small businesses and the security of the Internet in general.
If you feel the need to cite a source for them, point them to the Wikipedia article, which lists a number of US government studies and reports that show just how much damage the legislation could do.
And be clear that you don't want to see an edited version of the bill passed. This thing is not just poorly implemented. The concept itself is flawed and dangerous.
Emails count a little. Phone calls and faxes count more. A short, clear printed letter mailed to them counts the most.
If you're contacting your representative, mention H.R. 3621 (SOPA). If it's your Senators, the bill number to mention is S. 968 (PIPA).
You can find the contact information for both Senators and Representatives at Contacting the Congress. Just select your state, type in your zip code, and click the "Submit It" button.
When contacting them, be sure to either mention your name and address to the person you speak with on the phone or include it in your correspondence. They want to know you're actually one of their constituents.
Remember to be polite, clear, and brief. These folks are trying to protect your interests. Most of them simply don't understand the potential problems the bill would create.
Calling them, or typing a brief letter and putting a stamp on it, will probably take less time than you were about to spend in this forum today. And it could make a huge difference.
If every US citizen who reads this takes that few minutes' worth of action, we can generate a ton of pressure against the bill. If we all just leave it to everyone else, we're likely to be stuck with this as law, along with all the problems it brings.
It's up to you. Choose wisely.
You may recall the tragic loss of our social media friend Trey Pennington a few months back. It's so sad to think of "what if's" ... and suicide is such a heavy topic that not too many folks care to talk about. Likely most of us think it'll never happen to people we know... but it does.
I think this move by Facebook and Lifeline is very positive. And it shows just how much Facebook is becoming an integral part of our ecosystem and communications evolution. How about you?
- UC Web CreationsOwner, Creative Director, Web Designer, & Digital Marketing Consultant, 2008 - present
- MItel NetworksTechnical Instructor, 2013 - present
- March NetworksTechnical Trainer & Designer / and / Web & Blog Consultant & Designer, 2009 - 2012
- March NetworksTechnical Support Specialist, 2005 - 2009
- Rogers CommunicationsCustomer Service Consultant, 2002 - 2005
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