SOPA

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Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) or H.R. 3261 is a bipartisan bill introduced in the United States House of Representatives by Congressman Lamar Smith, House Judiciary Committee Chairman and co-sponsored by 31 other Representatives including John Conyers (D-Mich.), Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Howard Berman (D-Calif.) on June 26, 2011.[1] The bill aims to promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property, and for other purposes such as intellectual property rights protection of U.S. businesses particularly in the film, music and software industry against online piracy and counterfeiting.[2]

A legislative hearing was conducted by the House Judiciary Committee on November 16, 2011 to examine the various issues related to proposed Stop Online Piracy Act.[3] According to the statement released by Cong. Lamar Smith, the bill is not targeting technology but it is concentrated on "preventing those who engage in criminal behavior from reaching directly into the U.S. market to harm American consumers." He pointed out that "protecting America’s intellectual property will help the country's economy, create jobs, and discourage illegal websites." [4]

A full committee mark-up was held on Dec. 15, 2011 and lawmakers rejected 20 amendments intended to address the concerns raised by technology companies and civil liberty organizations, particularly the amendments introduced by Cong. Darrel Issa, which aimed to resolve the DNS security problems. The committee also rejected the amendment requiring copyright holders to pay for all court costs if the accused violator of copy right infringement wins legal charges. The proposed amendment to remove the provision providing legal immunity to ISPs, domain name registrars, payment processors, and other businesses that voluntarily take action against accused websites was also rejected. [5] [6]

On December 16, 2011, the House Judiciary Committee postponed the hearing on the proposed legislation because of strong oppositions from internet engineers, cyber security experts, large technology companies and other organizations. According to Cong. Smith, chairman of the Judiciary Committee and proponent of the bill, he will consider a hearing or a classified briefing to tackle the impact of SOPA on cybersecurity. Congressman Jason Chaffetz from Utah stressed that it is imperative for the legislators to hear from internet engineers and cybersecurity experts before voting for the final passage of the bill.[7]

On January 20, 2012, following significant opposition and a large Black-Out day for major websites protesting the legislation, which are detailed below, Congressman Lamar Smith announced that the legislation was being postponed "until there is wider agreement on a solution".[8]

Contents

Provisions

Under the proposed bill, the Department of Justice, through the Attorney General, is authorized to ask for a court order against the owners, operators, and domain name registrants of foreign websites to stop their operations if found conducting or facilitating online piracy including copyright infringement, unauthorized fixation and trafficking of sound recordings or videos of live musical performances, the recording of exhibited motion pictures, or trafficking in counterfeit labels, goods, or services. [9]

Section 102 of the bill stipulated that search engines, ISPs, and other entities ordered to stop doing business with suspected violators of online piracy and counterfeiting cannot be sued in court while Section 103 of the bill gives copyright holders the right to ask an injunction for third parties such as payment processors and advertisers to stop doing business with suspected websites selling pirated products. Under section 104, domain name registrars, registry, ISPs, search engines, internet advertisers, etc. that voluntarily take action and stop doing business with infringing websites are given legal immunity. In addition, any copyright holder who misrepresents that a website is dedicated to infringement or a if a respondent to an infringement claim knowingly misrepresents that a site is not dedicated to infringement will be liable for damages including attorneys fees and court costs.[10]

DNS Filtering

DNS filtering or blocking is another provision of the bills which requires Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to remove important DNS records or block DNS queries for a suspected infringing website if a petition or complaint is filed a law enforcement agency. This provision is also present in PIPA and it is highly objected by DNS experts including Steve Crocker, David Dagon, Dan Kaminsky, Danny McPherson, and Paul Vixie due to its negative impact to the overall architecture, stability and security of the internet.[11] [12] The White House also issued a statement that it does not support censorship that will threaten freedom of expression, innovation and pose risk to cybersecurity.[13] Although the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is a strong supporter of SOPA, the organizations Tech Policy Chief Paul Brigner believed that the DNS filtering should be removed from the bill.[14] After consultations with different internet stakeholders in the country Cong. Smith agreed to remove the DNS blocking in the bill.[15]

Supporters

According to a statistics conducted by the Center for Responsive Politics, the film, music and TV industry have spent more than $91 million to fund the lobbying for the approval of SOPA. The entertainment industry claimed that Internet criminals are stealing from hard working Americans by using foreign websites that are illegal.[16] The Stop Online Piracy Act is supported by different organizations, including:[17]

  • Motion Picture Association of America
  • U.S. Chamber of Commerce
  • Better Business Bureau
  • National Consumers League
  • 43 State Attorneys General
  • National Fraternal Order of Police
  • AFL-CIO, the Independent Film and Television Alliance
  • American Federation of Musicians
  • Directors Guild of America
  • International Brotherhood of Teamsters
  • Screen Actors Guild

After considerable opposition grew against the the SOPA and PIPA bills, it became apparent to California Senator Dianne Feinstein that both technology companies and Hollywood content producers needed to be brought together to work towards reconciliation. It was later released, however, that her attempt at bringing The Motion Picture Association of America together with the technology leaders of Silicon Valley failed. Disney CEO, Bob Iger, declined the invitation to meet with the Senator and Silicon Valley representatives on behalf of the content providers.[18]

Despite the participation of major American websites, such as Google, Wikipedia, and Cragislist, The MPAA claimed that the January 18th anti-SOPA blackout failed to gain any significant traction.[19]

Also following the SOPA blackout, many senators and congressmen withdrew their support of the bill. Marco Rubio and Tim Holden notably withdrew their support of PIPA and SOPA respectively, they were both co-sponsors of those respective bills.[20]

GoDaddy

Unlike many major Internet companies,[21] GoDaddy, the world's largest web hosting and registrar service, came out in support of SOPA in late October. The reasons for their support were cited as protecting American businesses from being robbed and American consumers from being harmed by counterfeit products. The company stated that it was trying hard to help SOPA become an acceptable form of legislature for all those involved.[22] This move came as a surprise, as GoDaddy, just like any other domain name registrar, could potentially have a major liability under the bill, as the responsibility for cybersquatting could be shifted from the registrant to the registrar.[23] By the end of December, significant media and Internet user attention was being paid to GoDaddy's SOPA support; users of the webforum Reddit.com began a protest against GoDaddy, urging those hosting their domain names with the company to transfer their domains to another service. The original poster suggested that December 29th be made "Move Your Domain Day," and in response many of GoDaddy's competitors began offering discount rates to those wanting to transfer.[24] Reddit users began contacting larger corporations hosting with GoDaddy, such as the Wikimedia Foundation, urging them to transfer their domains from GoDaddy as well.[25] On December 23, GoDaddy released a press release stating that it no longer supported SOPA, stating that it will support it in the future when and if the Internet community supports it.[26] In the first week of protesting, GoDaddy seemingly lost approximately 72,300 domains due to their support of SOPA.[27] After two weeks, when more solid figures were available, it was noted via the pay-site RegistrarStats.com that GoDaddy had seen 100,000 domains transferred away from its system; however, in that same time frame 117,000 domains were transferred to GoDaddy, therefore, the boycott did not see the registrar take a net loss to its hosting numbers.[28] They put up a small banner against SOPA on some of their sites on the SOPA Blackout Day, held on January 18, 2012.[29]

Oppositions

Objections from Technology Giants

Many global technology companies protested the passage of SOPA including Google, Yahoo, Facebook, eBay and Twitter. According to them, "the bill will only expose law-abiding U.S. Internet and technology companies to new uncertain liabilities, private rights of action, and technology mandates that would require monitoring of web sites." They asked the proponents of the bill to develop alternative measures that will target illegal websites dedicated to copyright infringement and trademark counterfeiting. They emphasized that the measures should preserve innovations and dynamism, which is a great contributor in creating more jobs and economic growth.Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales said it will shutdown Wikipedia temporarily to express its objection to the bill.[30]

Microsoft has also come out in quiet opposition of SOPA, despite being a longstanding supporter of increased copyright law in the U.S, and supporting PIPA earlier this year. Microsoft is a part of the Business Software Alliance, a trade association representing the interests of Microsoft and several other corporations in the U.S. government. BSA is one of the seven members of the International Intellectual Property Alliance, along with the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America.[31]

ISOC Joins the Protest

The Internet Society also joined the organizations in protest of the passage of SOPA and raised concerns over the provision of the bill that allows DNS filtering. According to the statement released by ISOC, "Policies mandating DNS filtering undermine the open architecture of the Internet and raise human rights and freedom of expression concerns and often curtail international principles of rule of law and due process". ISOC President and CEO, Lynn St. Amour, pointed out that it is not a feasible option for the development of the Internet.[32]

Internet Engineers Against SOPA

More than eighty Internet engineers also signed a petition letter against SOPA addressed to the members of the House of Representatives. In their letter, the Internet engineers explained that once the bill is enacted it "will create an environment of fear and uncertainty and it will harm technology innovations as well as the credibility of the United States as the steward of key internet infrastructure." In addition, the engineers also stressed that censorship of the internet infrastructure will cause inevitable network errors and security problems just like what happened in China and Iran where censorship is imposed.[33]

Vinton Cerf's Statement Against SOPA

Vinton Cerf, former chairman of ICANN and often considered as one of the fathers of Internet, sent his letter of opposition to Cong. Smith regarding SOPA. In his letter, he stressed that despite the amendments on certain provisions of SOPA, the bill is still problematic, particularly the issues on site blocking. According to him, "These will undermine the architecture of the Internet and obstruct the 15 year effort by the public and private sectors to improve cybersecurity through implementation of DNSSEC, a critical set of extensions designed to address security vulnerabilities in the DNS". In addition, he also emphasized that the bill would result in an "a worldwide arms race of unprecedented censorship of the Web". Mr. Cerf encouraged the Congress to create more effective and tailored legislative actions that will focus on the "follow-the-money" tactic or cutting the ability of illegal foreign websites to generate advertising revenue and to process payments.[34]

Afilias

In January, 2012, Afilias put a sponsored post on CircleID highlighting their opposition to SOPA and the reasons behind it. They noted that they do support intellectual property protections, but sill regard SOPA as a threat to the integrity of the Internet. Their reasons for opposing SOPA include: the threat it poses to DNSSEC, given that ISPs would suddenly be required to interrupt the security protocol's chain of command to block or suspend domains in violation of its copyright protections; the ease at which a user could still resolve a blocked site, given that it would be the local ISP's responsibility to block infringing domains; and the many opportunities and loopholes the legislation would create for Internet criminals.[35]

Name.com

GoDaddy competitor, Name.com, was a huge proponent of the GoDaddy protest, the SOPA blackout, and the other efforts to fight the legislation. They announced that they would be donating $1,000 to each of the following anti-SOPA organizations: Electronic Frontier Foundation, Creative Commons, and The Case Foundation.[36]

Lawmakers Against SOPA

Several members of the House of Representatives also joined the different organizations against SOPA. In a statement, the lawmakers pointed out that the current form of the bill used overly broad language and targets legal domestic websites and it created uncertainty for the technology and venture capital industries. In addition, the lawmakers also said that the bill may cause innovation-killing lawsuits and litigation. The lawmakers against SOPA include:[37]

  • Rep. Anna G. Eshoo
  • Rep. Jared Polis
  • Rep. Mike Doyle
  • Rep. Doris Matsui
  • Rep. Mike Thompson
  • Rep. Zoe Lofgren
  • Rep. Ron Paul
  • Rep Lloyd Doggett
  • Rep. Mike Honda
  • Rep. George Miller

Other Opposing Organizations

Other organizations cited that it could put individuals and companies under suspicion by just linking an article to a suspected infringing websites. They also argue that it could harm businesses providing web services.[38] Other Opposing organizations include: [39]

Public Opposition

In addition to groups like Public Knowledge, EEF, and Demand Progress, who have generated a lot of public concern towards SOPA in the form of hundreds of thousands of letters, emails, and phone calls, there have also been two heavily supported We The People petitions on the White House website. The first petition, created on October 31, 2011, garnered 25,000 signatures in two weeks, meeting its goal two weeks before the deadline. The second petition, created on December 18, garnered its goal of 25,000 in just two days.[41]

The Obama Administration's Stand on SOPA

On January 14, 2012, the Obama Administration issued an official statement in response to the petitions of against SOPA and PIPA. The White House pointed out that it is necessary to enact a law that will resolve online piracy by foreign websites, which is serious problem. The government strongly stated, "it will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet" It does not support the current provision of the SOPA that allows DNS filtering, which will put the DNSSEC deployment at risk. On the other hand, the expressed administration support to a legislation that will target online criminal activities with strong due process and encourage all internet stakeholders and legislators to work together to be able to develop a sound legislation that will best combat online piracy.[42] Furthermore, the White House invited the petitioners of the proposed legislation to a conference call and will host an online event to "further discuss the issue with administration officials."[43]

Black Out Day

The popular social news website and forum, Reddit, announced with a week's notice that it would black out its own site from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on January 18th, 2012, to protest SOPA. The site was influential in bringing about the aforementioned boycott of GoDaddy following the registrar's momentary support of the legislation.[44] Members of the site are trying to convince major websites like Google, Amazon, and Facebook to join in the protest. The move was originally inspired by Wikipedia, who was the first to consider blacking out its services in protest of SOPA.[45] Tucows announced on January 12th that it would be joining Reddit by blacking out its Software Download site for the same block of time.[46] Just a couple of days before the planned blackout, Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales announced that Wikipedia would be joining the protest,[47] blacking out for a full 24 hours. All content will be redirected to a letter from the Wikipedia community concerning SOPA and PIPA, with a call to action for visitors to call or write the U.S. Congress.[48] Other prominent sites participating by blocking some or all of their content included Wired,[49] Craigslist, Google, Boing Boing, and others.[50][51]

More than 115,000 sites participating, the strike garnered 10 million signatures to various petitions and more than 3 million emails sent to members of Congress.[52]

Reactions to Blackout Day

Cong. Smith, primary author of the SOPA criticized Wikipedia's blackout protest. He said that it is ironic to see the company "spreading misinformation" about the bill and he pointed out that it will not harm the company, blogs or social networking sites. Smith described the company's move as a "publicity stunt and disservice to users by promoting fear instead of facts."[53]

Chris Dodd, CEO of Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and former Connecticut senator described the blackout protest as irresponsible and abuse of power. According to him, the action of technology companies against SOPA is dangerous gimmick and troubling.[54]

Despite the participation of major American websites, such as Google, Wikipedia, and Cragislist, MPAA claimed that the January 18th anti-SOPA blackout failed to gain any significant traction.[55]

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo also criticized Wikipedia's plan to shutdown it's website for a day againts the online piracy bill is a foolish and silly thing to do. He tweeted, "That's just silly. Closing a global business in reaction to single-issue national politics is foolish."[56]

Following the SOPA blackout, many senators and congressmen withdrew their support of the bill. Marco Rubio and Tim Holden notably withdrew their support of PIPA and SOPA respectively, they were both co-sponsors of those respective bills.[57]

Cong. Smith Suspends SOPA

The Blackout and online action by end-users were seen as being major reasons for Congressman Lamar Smith's decision to suspend the bill on January 20, 2012.[58] In a statement Cong. Smith said, “I have heard from the critics and I take seriously their concerns regarding proposed legislation to address the problem of online piracy. It is clear that we need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products." He promised that the House Judiciary Committee will continue work with copyright owners and internet companies and seek their inputs to be able to develop a legislation that will best address the online piracy problem and protect intellectual property rights and innovation.[59]

References

  1. House introduces Internet piracy bill
  2. The Bill-H.R. 3261
  3. Committee on the Judiciary-Hearing Information
  4. Statement of Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith Hearing on H.R. 3261, the “Stop Online Piracy Act”
  5. Mark-up Information
  6. House Committee Appears Headed Toward Approving SOPA
  7. House Committee Postpones Action on SOPA
  8. SOPA is Dead Smith Pulls Bill, CBSnews.com
  9. Bill Summary & Status 112th Congress H.R.3261
  10. The US Stop Online Piracy Act: A Primer
  11. SOPA: Why Do We Have To Break The DNS?
  12. Internet Researchers Decry DNS-Filtering Legislation
  13. White House Responds to Two Anti-SOPA Petitions
  14. Even the MPAA is Shying Away From DNS Filtering, Saying It’s “Off the Table”
  15. Victory for SOPA Opponents: DNS Blocking Struck From Bill
  16. Silicon Valley, Hollywood fight over anti-piracy bill
  17. The US Stop Online Piracy Act: A Primer
  18. Disney Refused Invitation Senator Feinstein to Meet with Tech Companies Over PIPA SOPA, TechDirt.com
  19. Denial MPAA Pretends That No Big Sites Have Joined SOPA PIPA Protests, TechDirt.com
  20. More Senators Dropping Off as Co-Sponsors PIPA, TechDirt.com
  21. GoDaddy Faces boycott over SOPA support, http://arstechnica.com/
  22. Go Daddy’s Position on SOPA
  23. Red Hot on Reddit.com: “Move Your Domain Away From Godaddy Day” Based Off Of Support Of SOPA, thedomains.com
  24. GoDaddy supports SOPA, I'm transferring 51 domains & suggesting a move your domain day, reddit.com
  25. TIL Wikipedia.org is registered at SOPA supporter GoDaddy, reddit.com
  26. Go Daddy No Longer Supports SOPA, godaddy.com
  27. GoDaddy lost 21,054 domains yesterday due to their support of SOPA, thenextweb.com
  28. 2 Weeks of SOPA The Actual GoDaddy Numbers 100k Domains Transferred out 117k Transferred in, TheDomains.com
  29. GoDaddy Blackout SOPA, DomainNameWire.com
  30. House committee votes on SOPA today
  31. Surprise! Microsoft quietly opposes SOPA copyright bill
  32. Internet Society Joins Opposition to Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)
  33. An Open Letter From Internet Engineers to the United States Congress
  34. Vint Cerf: SOPA means 'unprecedented censorship' of the Web
  35. Afilias Says No To SOPA, CircleID.com
  36. Shedding Some Light During the Blackout SOPA PIPA, blog.name.com
  37. Lawmakers Statement Against SOPA
  38. House introduces Internet piracy bill
  39. The US Stop Online Piracy Act: A Primer
  40. LACNIC SOPA PIPA, LACNIC.net
  41. Public Opposition Accelerates As Latest Anti-SOPA Petition Hits Goal In Two Days, techdirt.com
  42. Obama Administration Responds to We the People Petitions on SOPA and Online Piracy
  43. White House Responds to Anti-SOPA Petition
  44. Reddit Black Itself Out Protest Sopa, NYmag.com
  45. Google, Amazon, Twitter and Facebook consider 'nuclear' blackout, zdnet.com
  46. Why We Don't Like Sopa, tucowsinc.com
  47. Wikipedia to join Web blackout protesting SOPA, cnet.com
  48. Wikipedia’s anti-SOPA blackout will go ahead on Wednesday, blogs.ft.com
  49. Why Weve Censored Wired, Wired.com
  50. Google plans to use home page to protest SOPA, cbsnews.com
  51. boingboing.net
  52. SOPA Strike Numbers
  53. SOPA Author Attacks Wikipedia, Schedules Debate on Bill
  54. The MPAA Says Blackout Protests Are an Abuse of Power
  55. Denial MPAA Pretends That No Big Sites Have Joined SOPA PIPA Protests, TechDirt.com
  56. Twitter boss slams Wikipedia's 'silly' Sopa protest
  57. More Senators Dropping Off as Co-Sponsors PIPA, TechDirt.com
  58. Lamar Smith SOPA Dead, VentureBeat.com
  59. Statement from Chairman Smith on SOPA
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