What is it?
The Protect IP Act (S. 968), or PIPA for short, is a pending bill in the U.S. Senate. The goal of the bill is to give copyright holders stronger legal tools to go after sites that host unauthorized or counterfeit music, movies, software or goods, in particular “rogue” overseas sites that largely lie beyond the reach of U.S. law. It’s a worthy goal, but PIPA is too broad and radical in scope, putting at risk a critical enabler of online innovation and job creation, educational opportunity, free expression, and consumer safety.
SOPA is an acronym for the Stop Online Piracy Act (HR 3261) and is the House counterpart to the Senates’ PIPA bill. Working in conjunction with PIPA, SOPA essentially enables the government, together with private business, to establish an Internet black-list of illegal websites.
Why we oppose:
Intellectual property rights (IPR) lay at the foundation of our economic model and are vigorously protected under the law. However the proposed SOPA and PIPA legislation are simply too broad in their enforcement efforts, sacrificing consumer choice, consumer protections, and consumer safety on the World Wide Web.
Here are some answers to common questions regarding these two pending bills.
Q. Will PIPA and SOPA adversely affect consumer protections online?
Yes. These bills grant complete immunity to a very large class of actors – including ISPs, advertising networks, advertisers, search engines, and payment networks – for cutting off access to a targeted site as long as they can claim their actions were taken in the reasonable belief that the site was suspected of encouraging infringement. This blanket immunity from all federal and state laws and regulations could allow companies to act in ways that would harm consumers.
For example, ISPs could block access to online services that compete with their own telephone or video offerings under a justification of curbing alleged infringement, depriving consumers of legitimate alternatives to high-priced services. The broad immunity of the statute would prevent consumers and consumer protection agencies from policing or addressing anti-consumer or anticompetitive behavior.
Q. How will PIPA impact my security online?
SOPA & PIPA orders U.S. domain name providers to block black-listed sites, interfering with efforts to improve online security and will put consumers at increased risk of identity theft and cyber-crime. Specifically, SOPA allows for court orders that block domain name system (DNS) operators from providing access to the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of targeted sites. In practice, a consumer attempting to access an allegedly infringing site would get an error message or be redirected to another page. However, redirecting DNS queries is also a common tactic used by malicious hackers to steal millions of dollars from consumers. To prevent these tactics, DNSSEC – an important voluntary security standard – is being implemented to ensure that any given DNS query will only return the correct IP address.
DNSSEC cannot tell the difference between DNS errors caused by criminal tactics (man-in-middle attacks, malware, fraud) or by court orders. This means that an ISP cannot implement the consumer protections of end-to-end DNSSEC and obey court orders issued under SOPA at the same time. ISPs faced with this dilemma may well choose not to implement DNSSEC fully, leaving consumers at risk online.
Q. What impact will PIPA and SOPA have on Open Education Resources?
SOPA and PIPA would harm efforts to increase students’ access to open source educational resources. The bills provide no provision for the 1976 Fair Use doctrine, leading schools to find supporting fair use and open source resources less appealing when infringement risks are higher. The laws would stifle the creation of new open source educational material; discourage web-services from hosting sites that risk infringing upon SOPA; place prohibitive liability burdens on open source educational sites that would cause operating costs to skyrocket; and scare off litigation-wary academic institutions from providing students with access to educational resources through digital technologies.
Q. How will PIPA and SOPA impact the World Wide Web?
Under the proposed bills, if any copyright-infringing material is discovered on a website, the site and/or host could have the entire domain name blocked by the government – even if platform staff are unaware of the infringing content (contrary to the current Safe Harbor protections). Infringement can be as little as a URL link to pirated material or an upload video of a child signing a copyright protected song. At particular risk are social media web sites that allow user interaction (Face Book, Youtube, Twitter) and open-source websites that by definition allow an open exchange of online content. This is not a theoretical worst case scenario, but an inevitable clash between “Old” and “New” media technologies and business models.
Q. How would PIPA and SOPA impact Internet Service Providers (ISP)?
ISPs would no longer have “safe harbor” protection from the actions of their users and will be liable for prohibited content whose publication and access they facilitated.
Q. What can copyright owners achieve with PIPA?
Under the bills terms, aggrieved copyright holders can cut financial support to host sites, have them shut down, or have their Web address blocked at the Domain Name Services (DNS) level. The U.S. attorney general will be given authority to create a blacklist of offending Web sites that Internet service providers (ISP) would be required to block access to.
Q. Will PIPA and SOPA lead to online censorship in the U.S.?
Should these bills pass, the federal government would be able to decide what sites are allowed to be accessed by Americans and which cannot. Experience suggests that more sites will be harmed by incompetence and pre-emptive self-censorship than to intentional political censorship but the entire approach is troubling.
In order to implement SOPA & PIPA, the U.S. would need to establish a system of real time online censorship akin to those existing in the most nefarious regimes, at great cost to business and consumers. In addition, these bills would place the responsibility for detecting and policing infringement onto web-hosts, rather than content owners, as required under current laws (notably the DMCA).
Q. How likely is it that respectable websites will get in trouble because of PIPA and SOPA?
With sites and cloud-based services such as Face-book, Dropbox and YouTube, infringements aren’t just highly probable — they’re certain. Some portion of the audience for virtually any site that allows users to upload, share or collaborate on content will infringe on intellectual property rights at some point.
SOPA renders Safe Harbor protections meaningless, requiring online companies to guard against infringements on pages that users control. And if the technologies they used to police their sites fail to prevent every infringement, a copyright owner could ask a court to second-guess their choice and order a different solution. Litigious copyright owners have already shown a willingness to pursue the little guy, and not just focus on professional criminals.
Q. Doesn’t PIPA and SOPA only impact foreign criminal websites?
While these laws ostensibly target foreign sites, the compliance costs and legal liability will be applied to U.S. websites and companies as well. The blacklisting remedies all require American companies to take costly actions that will burden both established companies and startups.
Follow the politics:
See who is supporting PIPA and SOPA in Congress with Pro Publica.
Watch: Learn more about SOPA & PIPA.
Leah Kauffman, AKA “Obama Girl”, in her new web hit “Firewall”