Nel's New Day

January 19, 2012

SOPA Protest Effective

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 6:41 PM
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The great Internet blackout of many websites in opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) succeeded! Despite the fact that some mainstream media ignored it (nothing on the evening CBS news, for example), Congressional supporters defected–beginning with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), then a trickle, and ending with a flood. Rubio announced his renunciation of co-sponsorship on Facebook, one of the protesting entities. After more and more people called their Congresspeople, the phone lines jammed. By the end of the day, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-IA), minority senior on the Judiciary Committee, withdrew support for the bill he helped write. The number of co-sponsors (30 in the House and 40 in the Senate for the corollary PIPA) disintegrated after the Web got riled up.

What is SOPA—and the blackout–all about? If the House bill succeeds, the government can arbitrarily shut down any website, search engine, etc. that it thinks might be violating the copyright laws. (Notice that the party for shrinking government and keeping it out of people’s lives was largely in support of this draconian bill.) To quote Jorge Rivas and Jamilah King, “[SOPA] allows the U.S. attorney general to seek a court order against any targeted offshore website that would, in turn, be served on Internet providers in an effort to make the target virtually disappear. It’s kind of an Internet death penalty.”

Rivas and King describe the impact of SOPA as follows: “If you create or consume content on the Internet, under SOPA the government would have the power to pull the plug on your website. If you’re a casual consumer, your favorite websites could be penalized and shut down if they seem to be illegally supporting copyrighted material. This is especially important for human rights groups and advocates in communities of color, who could face increased censorship if the bill is passed. The language of the bill makes it easy for the US Attorney General to go after websites it simply sees as a threat.”

SOPA supporters who claim that the bill affects only foreign websites are wrong. Around the world, the most widely used sites are American: Google, Facebook, YouTube, etc. The bill will plant liability of pirated content squarely on the website owner. This approach requires U.S. companies to use their own resources to police the foreign pages for pirated content. Smaller companies such as Reddit lack the resources to do this and may be forced to close. Bill co-sponsors may not be aware of the fact that SOPA will have devastating consequences.

In this situation, the Republicans were the smart ones. Whether they understood that such a large protest meant they were wrong (probably not) or they needed to keep whatever votes they could find (probably), they were in the majority in abandoning SOPA. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NW) plans to keep his co-sponsorship and vote to override a promised filibuster from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) so “the bill can be debated and improved.” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), head of the Democratic National Committee, will also remain a co-sponsor because she’s “open to the final version changing and thinks everyone should come to the table and find a compromise.” It’s a bad bill: trying to fix it is like trying to cook spoiled meat in a way to make it taste better.

Former Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut is another Democrat who vigorously opposes backing down on SOPA—but then it’s his job to fight it. Since leaving the Senate, he’s become chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America. Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid of Nevada stated that he will bring a vote on PIPA next Tuesday without trying to resolve the conflicts. Enough Democratic Senators opposed the bill, however, that it will have trouble passing.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), author of the bill, is one of the remaining few who staunchly stands behind it. It’s been reported that this same author has violated the basics of SOPA by using a photograph on his campaign website with no credit or pay to the photographer. And he’s not the only one. A blogger in Hawaii started collecting violations from Congressional SOPA/PIPA supporters. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MI) changed the background on his Twitter page after the photographer, Walter Rowland, complained about its illegal use; Sen. Claire McGaskill (D-MI) stole her background image from Flickr user J. Stephen Conn; and Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) illegally used “Overweight Government Pig” by cartoonist John S. Pritchett—and thoughtfully cropped out the copyright notice. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) “lifted” an image from Google Maps for his website. [I’m betting that SOPA and PIPA turned out to be more educational that Congressional co-sponsors ever considered!]

More humor comes from Jon Stewart on The Daily Show when he compared SOPA to “coming up with a plan to prevent teen pregnancy that includes filling penises with cement. Your penis is still there, it’s just [that] no one can get at it.”

[Note: The four last standing Republican presidential candidates just announced in tonight’s debate in South Carolina that they opposed SOPA. More about SOPA and PIPA on Nel’s New Day, 12/17/11 and 1/17/12.]

January 17, 2012


Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:52 PM
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When Congress recesses at the end of the year and then returns the next month, the bills all seems to disappear—at least the ones that I want passed. Not so the one that would put unreasonable laws on people, companies, and websites that get caught up in illegally publishing or selling copyrighted material. One month ago today I wrote about the evils of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA); it hasn’t gone away.

In protest, Wikipedia, Reddit, BoingBoing, and others will go black tomorrow. What’s wrong with SOPA? Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales, explained, “The bill is so over broad and so badly written that it’s going to impact all kinds of things that don’t have anything to do with stopping piracy.”

One problem is that there is no qualification that a foreign site be designed for the purpose of theft—just facilitate it, knowingly or unknowingly. Any site with a comment box or picture upload form can potentially infringe the proposed law. The attorney general can block any site that isn’t taken down within five days and has the power to fully censor foreign sites such as WikiLeaks. As in the Arizona situation with taking books from the Mexican American Studies program (1/16/12), the government can decide what should be censored.

According to SOPA, any site that allows users to post content is “primarily designed for the purpose of offering services in a manner that enables copyright violation.” Thus YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, Gmail, Dropbox and millions of other sites would be “Internet sites…dedicated to theft of U.S. property,” under SOPA’s definition.

Furthermore, the site owners infringe if they (bloggers, Facebookers, etc.) “take deliberate actions to avoid confirming a high probability of the use of…the site to carry out acts [of copyright infringement or circumvention].” Anyone who doesn’t screen every piece of content and determine if it is copyright-free before it is posted (whether there is infringing content on that site or not) is labeled as an “Internet site…dedicated to theft of U.S. property.”

Tomorrow Google will post information about the problems with SOPA and provide an add-on to let browsers know which companies are “SOPA-supportive.” No SOPA puts a red bar at the top of the browser that reads “SOPA Supporter! This company is a known supporter of the dangerous ‘Stop Online Piracy Act.’”

Rupert Murdoch, head of News Corporation which includes Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, supports the law. He went viral after President Obama released the following statement: “While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cyber-security risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global internet.”

Not only did Murdoch attack President Obama but he also went after Google, calling it a “piracy leader” and claiming that it “streams movies free and sells advertising around it. No wonder [it’s] pouring millions into lobbying.” Pretty strong stuff from the man whose company was caught up in a phone-hacking scandal at his UK newspapers, including erasing messages from the cellphone of crime victims’ parents. And Google doesn’t stream movies; the sites on its search index do that.

When originally proposed last October, SOPA was so low-key that passing it was almost a slam-dunk until the tech world found out about it. By now, the bad news about the bill has exploded—thanks to the Internet. At this time, SOPA will be revised before it goes to a House vote, but the Senate is still scheduled to vote on Protect IP Act (PIPA).

You can protest  SOPA by signing a petition. If you want to find out more about SOPA and PIPA check out the Wikipedia site—but do it before midnight or wait until Thursday.

I will be joining the blackout for tomorrow. Be back Thursday!


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