What are SOPA/PIPA?
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA or HR 3261), and its sister bill in the Senate, the Protect IP Act (PIPA or S 968), attempt to deal with online sites that traffic in illegally copied content (piracy), but at cost of remaking the architecture of the Internet itself. That’s a very high price to pay, especially since neither bill will actually stop, or even slow, piracy. Specifically, SOPA, section 102, and PIPA, section 3, call for:
- Have internet service providers to alter their DNS servers from resolving the domain names of websites in foreign countries that host illegal copies of videos, songs, and photos
- Have search engines, like Google, modify search results to exclude foreign websites that host illegally copied material
- Have payment providers, like PayPal, to shut down the payment accounts of foreign websites that host illegally copied material
- Have ad services, like Google’s AdSense, to refuse any ads or payment from foreign sites that host illegally copied content
These rules would not apply to domains that end in .com, .net, and .org.
SOPA, in section 104, provides legal immunity to ISPs that block websites that host illegally copied material. That’s an opportunity for a major conflict of interest for a huge ISPs like Comcast, which owns NBC. There would be nothing stopping Comcast from blocking a foreign video service site that competes with NBC if Comcast could claim that it had a “reasonable belief” that the foreign video service site was “dedicated to the theft of US property.” Because US copyright holders can’t drag a foreign web site into US courts to get them to stop stealing and distributing their work, SOPA allows them to go after the ISPs, ad networks, and payment processors that are in the US. It is a law born of revenge: music and movie studios can’t punish the real pirates, so they are attacking the Internet instead.
We turn our attention to how SOPA/PIPA will affect Internet security, or Domain Name Server Security Extension (DNSSEC). The idea of DNSSEC is to promote end-to-end encryption of domain names, meaning there’s no break in the chain between, say, ebay.com and its customer. Requiring Internet providers to redirect domain names of sites that allegedly pirate copyrighted material to, say, the FBI’s servers isn’t compatible with DNSSEC. Rep. Dan Lungren, who heads the Homeland Security subcommittee on cybersecurity, has said that an “unintended consequence” of SOPA would be to “undercut” the effort his panel has been making to promote DNSSEC. The Sandia National Laboratories, part of the U.S. Department of Energy, says it is “unlikely to be effective” and will “negatively impact U.S. and global cybersecurity and Internet functionality.” And Stewart Baker, the former policy chief at the Department of Homeland Security, warned that SOPA “runs directly counter” to the House’s own cybersecurity efforts.
During a debate in the House Judiciary committee in December, 2011, it was clear that SOPA supporters have a majority on the committee. They’re expected to approve it when Congress returns in 2012. Because the House’s floor schedule is under the control of the majority party, the decision on when/if a full House vote will occur is in the hands of House Speaker John Boehner. Regarding PIPA, the Senate Judiciary committee has approved it and it’s waiting for a floor vote that has been scheduled for January 24, 2012.
Intellectual Property Protection
While there is no doubt that intellectual property should be protected, SOPA/PIPA is, as written, dangerous because of what they could do. It allows copyright holders to pursue websites that only link to pirated material. That is an idea that might be used by giant media companies to eliminate competition.
But that’s just my opinion.
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