There has been a lot of talk recently about SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act (H.R. 3261), which, if passed as it stands, would effectively result in the blocking of web sites that offended the sensibilities of Hollywood movie studios or the recording industry (or anyone with a trademark or copyright and a lawyer).
It seems to go without saying that handing the keys to an Internet blacklist to commercial entities is wrongheaded and very dangerous. Especially considering the MPAA and RIAA‘s history of steamrolling the house to kill a termite. So it isn’t surprising that there is a lot of anti-SOPA action happening. We oppose SOPA as well, and encourage you to make your voice heard if you want to keep the Internet free.
But perhaps less frequently discussed is another nasty piece of legislation that is also wrapped up in a name designed to mask its negative aspects; Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011, a.k.a. PIPA or the Protect IP Act (United States Senate Bill S.968).
PIPA has many of the same components of SOPA, with one notable exception. PIPA allows infringed upon parties to bring legal action against hosts over data on their servers, whether they are aware of its presence or not. Internet legal expert and SaveHosting.org founding member David Snead recently estimated the initial cost of the host’s defense of these suits at $50,000 per suit filed (“initial cost” being the operative term here).
Any way you slice it, that’s a large expenditure, and one that could be ruinous to a small host. Not to mention the fact that a host could be hit with multiple suits and be forced to defend themselves in dozens (or more) of such cases. You can see how quickly this legislation could become disruptive and destructive.
There are also a slew of fundamental technical issues the legislation introduces, issues that undermine the stability and freedom of the Internet as you and I know it today. We’re not going to address those here, but they are equally as important as the issues that we are discussing.
Hosting consumers get the shaft
To the point of how this affects you and why you should care, consider this: it is much more than an inconvenience when your host goes belly up. It’s a diminishing of your choices. If we stand by and allow every host that doesn’t have millions of dollars to spend on legal fees to be litigated off the face of the earth, the only choice that is going to be left to you is to buy hosting from one of a handful very large companies.
Not that all large companies are necessarily bad, but anyone with a cell phone or cable television service knows that lack of choice can indeed be a very bad thing. Do you want to live in a world where governmentally empowered multi-billion dollar businesses can control not only your hosting choices, but ultimately what you can access on the Internet? I sure don’t.
And that is not exaggeration or hyperbole, it is the inevitable result of the legislation as it stands.
Perhaps the most exasperating thing about both of these acts is that they are utterly unnecessary. We have had protection for trademark and copyright holders for more than a decade under the DMCA. The DMCA is a fair system, as the copyright holder is insured quick action when they make a complaint, and hosts such as ourselves are immune from liability as long as we take action against infringing materials in a prescribed amount of time.
SOPA and PIPA have no such “safe harbor,” and as I mentioned, PIPA specifically states that providers will be equally as liable as infringers.
It would appear that DMCA was not enough for the MPAA and RIAA, who want comprehensive and punitive control over sites they don’t like. Which, by some accounts, is no more than a desperate ploy by industries that were too slow and stubborn to adapt to a new world, and now see a massive wave litigation as a reasonable means of exercising control and forestalling inevitable change.
In other words, they have clearly been unable to stem the tide of piracy using technology, creativity or lawsuits against individuals (those suits turned into a P.R. nightmare for the record industry), so they are falling back on a sledgehammer approach of legally bullying the hosts (deeper pockets) and tampering with the DNS system.
Am I opposed to protecting the work of creative people? Absolutely not. I am one of those people, and I’m not particularly anxious to give my work away to pirates. But an objective analysis of the proposed legislation will lead most thinking people to a negative conclusion. The scope and effect of SOPA and PIPA are vast and frightening. It is very important that we do not allow the legislation to pass without opposition.
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