Tuesday, May 17, 2022
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The web strikes back at SOPA

I didn’t pay much attention to SOPA until last Wednesday.

Rarely does a day pass without a visit to Google or Wikipedia. On Wednesday, they were among the first sites I visited.

Google’s colorful logo was covered by a black box and my Wikipedia search quickly proved futile. Instead, I encountered a link imploring me to contact my Congressperson in opposition to the pending legislation. The infamous blackout pushed the legislation out of the political sidelines and into the realm of public infamy and scorn.

As of last Thursday, 13 senators – including co-sponsors – have withdrawn their support for the House bill. They have withdrawn their support for its Senate predecessor, PIPA (Protect IP Act), as well. Overnight, senate support collapsed as millions signed Google’s petition.

My initial reaction was curiosity. Although I remained a bit skeptical, the bold, unexpected advertising caught my attention. My memory flashed back to the anti-piracy legislation of the early 2000s, which targeted illegal music downloads.

Fast-forward nearly a decade, and the same group of communications and entertainment lobbyists is back at it again with a vengeance.

The issue of online copyright infringement is a legitimate, pressing concern. Millions of dollars are lost as a result of websites – many of them foreign – that host pirated content.

If all SOPA did was stop online piracy, all would be well. Unfortunately, there is little proof the bill will effectively stop piracy. A quick analysis of the bill’s many provisions smells a rat.

Under SOPA, a copyright holder or the Justice Department may seek a court order against a website associated with copyright infringement. If granted, the order would shut down the website and eliminate any traces of it without a defense hearing or traditional trial.

Additionally, copyright holders may invoke a “private right of action” and cut off payments from a website without entering the courtroom.

To object, a company would have to file a court motion, a costly legal burden many small websites are unable to afford. Additionally, payment processers and search engines that cut off access to a legitimate website would be immune to legal action.

Concerns have been raised over the DNS (Domain Name System) blocking process the Department of Justice would use to shut down websites. Some say this would adversely affect internet safety and reliability.

The effects of SOPA could be catastrophic for many websites, but would be a fatal blow to social media websites with user-uploaded content like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. It’s no wonder the likes of Mark Zuckerburg have come out in full-fledged opposition to the bill.

The ability for Internet users to upload and share content with each other without regard to geographical location has revolutionized the way we conduct business, share information and communicate with one another.

The Internet has facilitated millions of small business startups and entrepreneurial ventures, which can set up shop on the web with minimal entry costs compared with traditional operations.

Likewise, the ability for users to share and upload content has created a wealth of information accessible at the touch of a smart phone screen and other devices that were unheard of and unthinkable of just a few short years ago.

All of this would change, and likely for the worst.

Companies like Google and Facebook are the innovators of the 21st century.

The SOPA boosters are the has-been Hollywood giants and media vultures clamoring to stave off the competition that is inevitable in a capitalist economy.

In reality, SOPA has far less to do with copyright protection than it does with monopolizing the web.

The bill would be a win for corporate attorneys and Hollywood and a loser for the American people, establishing the notoriously corrupt Department of Justice as webmaster-in-chief.

Behold the bastion of censorship.

nzoschke@unews.com

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