What is SOPA? Possible Consequences that Could Ruin the Internet

 @KukilBora
on January 18 2012 8:11 AM

As an act of protest against a pair of legislations - the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) - more than a dozen Web sites, including Wikipedia, Moveon.org, Craigslist, Reddit, Boing Boing and the Cheezburger network, have participated in a day-long blackout.

Although many major media companies are backing the bills, the tech industry argues the bills will give excessive power to media companies to shut down sites they think are violating copyrights. According to protesters, SOPA could render any Web site containing links, even if they are user-submitted, practically inoperable or liable to government take-down, Mashable reported.

So here is the conclusion - SOPA is bad and could seriously threaten the Internet.

However, what are the issues that make the bill such a dangerous thing?

Let us delve into the bill and try to sketch out its potential consequences. For the full text of the bill, as of Jan. 15, 2012, click here...

The Complex Idea of Domestic and Foreign Sites

Web sites are broadly divided into two groups in the bill - Domestic Internet Site and Foreign Internet Site or Non-domestic domain name (PROTECT IP).

A domestic site is described as a site that corresponds to a domestic domain name or to a domestic IP address, if there is no domain name. A domestic domain name is defined as a domain registered or assigned by a registrar or other authority located within the U.S. Common examples of domestic domain names are .com, .org, and .us. On the other hand, a foreign site is defined as a site that doesn't use a domestic domain name.

This is where the confusion arises. Reditt, for example, has its primary servers in Virginia. However, it also has domain names through foreign registrars (redd.it, reddit.co.uk) and is hosted through a third-party content-delivery network, Akamai.

Therefore, when users connect to Reditt from a foreign country, they are expected to connect an Akamai server outside the U.S. Ignoring this complication, the legislation simply tags a site foreign or domestic based only on the domain name, wrote Jason Harvey, a self-described sysadmin, on his blog.

'Facilitation' of Copyright Infringement

According to Section 102(a) (2), the Attorney General is authorized to take action against foreign sites if the owner or operator of the site is committing or facilitating the commission of criminal violations. Since there is no qualification that can effectively indicate the site is solely for the purpose of theft and not simply facilitating it, a site could easily be targeted for something as simple as having a comment box or picture upload form according to Chris Heald of Mashable.

User-Driven Sites Will Face Heat

Harvey said in his blog that SOPA and PROTECT IP do not contain provisions to actually remove copyrighted content but rather focus on the censorship of links to entire domains.

If the Attorney General orders a user-driven site like Reditt to remove links to a domain, the site will be required to scour each and every post and comment having links to the domain, even if the particular link contains no infringing content.

In addition, the court order would require the following as well:

- Internet service providers will be required to block all access to the targeted site within five days

- Search engines will be required to remove all references to the offending sites from their indexes

- Ad providers will be required to stop providing ad service to the site

- Payment providers will be required to terminate service to the site

YouTube, Facebook and Wikipedia Dedicated to Theft of U.S. Property?

According to Section 103, an Internet site is dedicated to theft of U.S. property if the site, or a portion of it, is U.S.-directed and is used by users within the U.S. and is primarily designed or operated for the purpose of offering services in a manner that enables or facilitates copyright violation.

In order to come under the law, the site doesn't necessarily have to be designed for the purpose of copyright violation. It just needs to give functionality that can help enable copyright violation.

Thus, under SOPA's definition, big names like YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, Gmail and Dropbox will simply be considered as being dedicated to theft of U.S. property.

You're Also Infringing

According to a report by Mashable, being a Web site owner, you may also be considered as infringing copyright if you deliberately decide it's not cost-effective to screen every piece of content and determine whether or not it is copyright-free before it is posted to your site.

In simple terms, SOPA will turn you into a criminal for not actively monitoring every piece of content on your Web site.

MUST READ: SOPA Blackout Jan. 18: Wikipedia Goes Dark, Google Supports Protest; Who Else Will Join the Fray?  

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