The PROTECT IP Act, now the Stop Online Piracy Act (HR 3261), was introduced yesterday (with only a handful of sponsors) and will be up for a vote soon. Unfortunately, the final version of the bill is much worse than expected.
HR 3261 includes provisions that would make it a felony to stream unlicensed content -- including cover band performances, karaoke videos, recording of video game play, and even videos with copyrighted content playing in the background. For example, this video that I filmed of my friends' wedding reception at our state's capitol would now be considered a felonious act!
Furthermore, imagine a world in which any intellectual property holder can, without ever appearing before a judge or setting foot in a courtroom, shut down any website’s online advertising programs and block access to credit card payments. The credit card processors and the advertising networks would be required to take quick action against the named website; only the filing of a “counter notification” by the website could get service restored. This "guilty until proven innocent" mindset is an appalling attack on the most basic philosophy of our judicial system and a clear violation of free speech.
I normally avoid political issues on my blog, but if the PROTECT IP Act passes my blog could become illegal! Also, any content sharing website like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook would become legally responsible for the content posted on their sites, and if they are unable to comply, they would be blacklisted by search engines and DNS services in the US, essentially making them disappear to end user. Furthermore, services like iCloud, Pandora and others could also be effected.
This act has the best of intentions in that it is meant to prevent the piracy and illegal sharing of copyrighted material, but that is also its downfall. According to current laws ALL digital media is copyrighted. This applies to everything from that book report you saved to a floppy disk in junior high to cat videos.
As a result of the broad language used in the bill, anyone could sue if their content is shared without their permission and either settle for a huge payoff or have the offending site blacklisted. It would probably go down something like this. Joe Catvideo posts a cute video of his cat, Troller, to his ad-supported website. The video is a viral hit and gets shared by millions on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. Joe Catvideo the sues YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook for millions in damages from lost advertising revenue on his site. However, because they are currently in litigation with a million other Joe Catvideos and already spent billions on legal battles, they cut their losses, get blacklisted, and move offshore to a more open environment.
Other countries currently use similar DNS blacklists to "protect" their citizens. However, they are not protecting copyrights, but rather protecting their citizens from harmful ideas like freedom of speech. Do we really want to regulate the internet with the same mindset as China or Iran?
Well, according to those backing the bill, we do! Those backing the bill include The Recording Industry Association of America, The Motion Picture Association of America, and many other organizations that have continually fought for their own profits using antiquated business models from a time before digital media existed.
Check out my letter to Representative Capito below:
Dear Representative Capito:
I am a constituent and I implore you NOT TO support the Stop Online Piracy Act (HR 3261), which was introduced this week by Reps Goodlatte, Smith, and others.
I hope you'll oppose the legislation -- but even if you're considering supporting it, please take the time to hear my concerns before signing on as a cosponsor.
My understanding of the proposed language is that it is written in such a heavy-handed fashion that it would even threaten the existence of sites like YouTube and Twitter. Furthermore, the idea of making the streaming of all copyrighted material illegal could cause great harm. For example, under the proposed legislation sharing a video of a karaoke performance on YouTube would technically be a felonious act. I don't like karaoke myself, but I don't think it warrants felony charges!
I am the technologist for Bob's Market and Greenhouses, Inc. and a large portion of my duties are maintaining our online content on our own site and also various social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. I have read the bill and it is easy to see how it can be abused. Our patent system is currently plagued by patent trolls, and I can see the same thing happening with copyrights if this bill passes.
To me the "DNS blacklisting" aspect of the bill is the most worrying. The internet as we know it relies on DNS servers to operate transparently. If a site is blacklisted it simply appears to disappear to end user. I actually employ DNS filtering on our corporate network to filter out sites not suitable for the workplace, but our network is a private institution. However, there are other countries that use national DNS blacklists to prevent their citizens from accessing "dangerous" sites. Do we really want to operate with the same mindset as
China, , and others? Iran
This bill has the best of intentions because addresses a very real problem that has a massive economic impact. However, the language of the bill leaves far too much room for abuse. The Stop Online Piracy Act (HR 3261) demonstrates an astounding lack of respect for Internet freedom and free speech rights. I urge you to oppose it.
John R. Morgan
Bob's Market & Greenhouses, Inc.