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Because forcing austerity on the nation isn't enough to keep Congress occupied and off the streets, they're also plotting against the internet with SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House, and PROTECT IP in the Senate (BANANAS alert if you click that link). In a generally deadlocked body, this one seems to be on the fast track, potentially coming up for a vote in the Senate as soon as Dec. 5.

ArsTechnica provides the background.

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.

It's the world envisioned by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) in today's introduction of the Stop Online Piracy Act in the US House of Representatives. This isn't some off-the-wall piece of legislation with no chance of passing, either; it's the House equivalent to the Senate's PROTECT IP Act, which would officially bring Internet censorship to the US as a matter of law.

Calling its plan a “market-based system to protect US customers and prevent US funding of sites dedicated to theft of US property,” the new bill gives broad powers to private actors. Any holder of intellectual property rights could simply send a letter to ad network operators like Google and to payment processors like MasterCard, Visa, and PayPal, demanding these companies cut off access to any site the IP holder names as an infringer.

If that sounds a little alarmist, it isn't. Mike Masnick at Techdirt, in the "definitive post on why SOPA and Protect IP are bad, bad ideas" walks through the extensive list of problems with the bills.

The real fear is the massive collateral damage these bills will have to jobs, the economy and innovation.
  • The broad definitions in the bill create tremendous uncertainty for nearly every site online.  This sounds like hyperbole, but it is not.  Defenders of the bill like to claim that it is "narrowly focused" on foreign rogue infringing sites.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  While PIPA targets only foreign sites, the mechanism by which it does so is to put tremendous compliance and liability on third party service providers in the US.  SOPA goes even further in expanding the private right of action to domestic sites as well.  We've already seen how such laws can be abused by looking at how frequently false takedown claims are made under the existing DMCA.  Of course, under the DMCA, just the content is blocked.  Under SOPA all money to a site can be cut off.  Under PIPA sites will just end up in court. Or, with both laws, an Attorney General can take action leading US companies to have to effectively act as network nannies trying to keep infringement from being accessible.  None of this is good for anyone building a startup company these days. [...] And the definitions are ridiculously broad. Under SOPA, you can be found "dedicated to the theft of US property" if the core functionality of your site "enables or facilitates" infringement. The core functionality of nearly every internet website that involves user generated content enables and facilitates infringement. The entire internet itself enables or facilitates infringement. Email enables or facilitates infringement. [...]
  • The risk of these broad definitions on perfectly legitimate companies is not theoretical: Defenders of both bills continue to insist that they're only meant to deal with the worst of the worst.  If that were really true, the definitions would be a lot tighter and a lot more specific.  Even if this is the intention of the authors of both bills, the simple fact is that the very broad definitions in the bill, mean that any entrepreneur today will need to take significant compliance costs just to avoid the possible appearance of fitting the criteria. [...]
  • The risk of these broad definitions on perfectly legitimate companies is not theoretical: Defenders of both bills continue to insist that they're only meant to deal with the worst of the worst.  If that were really true, the definitions would be a lot tighter and a lot more specific.  Even if this is the intention of the authors of both bills, the simple fact is that the very broad definitions in the bill, mean that any entrepreneur today will need to take significant compliance costs just to avoid the possible appearance of fitting the criteria. [...]
  • That uncertainty has extreme and quantifiable effects on investment in new startups.  A very detailed look at the uncertainty in the cloud computing space, prior to and after the decision in the Comedy Central v. Cablevision case, which effectively set the framework for the legality of cloud computing, showed much greater investment when the law was clarified to be in favor of letting these new services thrive.  Take that away, and investment in this engine of growth likely would be much lower. [...]
  • Broadly expanding secondary liability is a dream for trial lawyers, but will be a disaster for business.  There's been a move, associated with these bills to somehow demonize important concepts of safe harbors from secondary liability.  The suggestion is that secondary liability somehow "allows" bad activity.  Nothing is further from the truth.  Illegal activity is still illegal.  The point of safe harbors from secondary liability is blaming the party actually doing the action that breaks the law. [...]
  • Going down the slippery slope of censorship is fraught with peril, both domestically and abroad.  Supporters of the law get angry any time people bring up censorship, but as law professor Derek Bambauer has made clear, any effort to block content is a form of censorship. [...]

That's just a handful of the problems with these bills Masnick highlights. It's worth the read and worth taking the time to find out about this legislation, again because it seems to be action Congress is intent upon taking. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) will filibuster the bill if it comes to the Senate floor, and will do it the old-fashioned way. He'll read the names of censorship opponents from the floor of the Senate, from the list of people who sign the petition at Here he is talking about his efforts:

It's possible that with enough support for the filibuster, leadership gives up on bringing this to the floor in the near future. After all, they've got an awful lot to get through between now and Christmas and if Wyden can find several senators to support him, they can threaten to tie things in the Senate up enough that the vote has to be postponed. That, along with Microsoft's opposition to it, might just do the trick.

Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Wed Nov 23, 2011 at 02:39 PM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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