Friday, January 13, 2012

SOPA and You

Everything you need to know about the probable death of the Internet 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or shooting them into your bloodstream for the last few months, you’ve probably heard of something called the Stop Online Piracy Act, or as it known to all of those cool kids that like to abbreviate stuff, SOPA. SOPA - the technical nomenclature is H.R. 326, if you were wondering - in a word, is “absolute and utter horse shit,” but since we here at The Internet Is In America pride ourselves on fair and balanced coverage, I’ve decided to take the time to fully explain the intricacies of the proposed legislation to those that want more information about it, or have difficulty interpreting its intended scope and consequences.

Odds are, you’ve heard about SOPA, if not from television propaganda on Fox News, then from the furious, almost incoherent doom saying of many a frightened Internet poster. According to the proponents of the proposed legislation, it’s a necessary measure to ensure national security, and per the opponents of the act, it’s a false flag operation intended to derive Internet users of almost all of their cyber-rights. Never one to steer away from polemic topics, I reckon such a monumental piece of legislation was worthy of a fine comb-over, and for those of you still on the fence about the act, I dearly hope that you walk away with a more clarified picture of the potential ramifications of such legislation after reading this brief report

So, what’s all of this SOPA business about, and how could it possibly affect your life? Buddy, do I have a dossier for you. I recently did some exhaustive research (read: looked it up on Wikipedia), and decided to condense all of the fine points of the proposed legislation for you to make up your own mind on just how stupid, destructive and ultimately Satanic the act is, but hey. . . I’ll try to keep it as unbiased as I can here.

First off, who’s calling for this shit?

If we had to label just one person as the driving force behind SOPA, it would have to be Texas Republican Lamar Smith. Smith is, in a nutshell, everything horrible about humanity rolled into a single person. For starters, he’s a Christian Scientist, which means he’s automatically immune to logical argumentation from the get-go. Secondly, he’s damn-damn-damn opposed to federally-doled marijuana, despite the fact that he’s received wellover $60,000 from the beer lobby since 2009, so he’s not at all a hypocrite in any regard.

Backing Smith in Congress is a collection of Republicans and Democrats, all of whom I am listing below so that you can TOTALLY NOT SEND ANGRY E-MAILS TO:

Rep Amodei, Mark E. [NV-2]
Rep Baca, Joe [CA-43]
Rep Barrow, John [GA-12]
Rep Bass, Karen [CA-33] 
Rep Berman, Howard L. [CA-28]
Rep Blackburn, Marsha [TN-7]
Rep Bono Mack, Mary [CA-45]
Rep Carter, John R. [TX-31]
Rep Chabot, Steve [OH-1] 
Rep Chu, Judy [CA-32]
Rep Conyers, John, Jr. [MI-14]
Rep Cooper, Jim [TN-5]
Rep Deutch, Theodore E. [FL-19]
Rep Gallegly, Elton [CA-24]
Rep Goodlatte, Bob [VA-6]
Rep Griffin, Tim [AR-2]
Rep Holden, Tim [PA-17]
Rep King, Peter T. [NY-3]
Rep Larson, John B. [CT-1]
Rep Lujan, Ben Ray [NM-3]
Rep Marino, Tom [PA-10]
Rep Nunnelee, Alan [MS-1]
Rep Owens, William L. [NY-23]
Rep Quayle, Benjamin [AZ-3]
Rep Ross, Dennis [FL-12]
Rep Scalise, Steve [LA-1]
Rep Schiff, Adam B. [CA-29]
Rep Sherman, Brad [CA-27]
Rep Terry, Lee [NE-2]
Rep Wasserman Schultz, Debbie [FL-20] 
Rep Watt, Melvin L. [NC-12]

Additionally, a good 60 plus companies are on the SOPA bandwagon, including the usual suspects (the MPAA, the RIAA, ASCAP, etc.) to coalitions that you really wouldn’t think would be all about stopping them some online piracy (Americans for Tax Reform, Concerned Women for America, and for some reason, True Religion Brand Jeans.) If you want a complete list of companies and organizations supporting SOPA (whom you can, I don’t know, boycott, perhaps), the full roll call can be found right here.

Needless to say, that’s a pretty impressive assortment of folks in support of SOPA, and there’s no denying that they have some massive clout in getting shit done.

That said, what do all of these people WANT out of SOPA? As it turns out…they want some MAJOR changes to how we navigate and utilize the Intra-web.

So, what exactly do they want out of it?

Sounds simple enough. So, how exactly do all these folks think they’ll go about promoting all that prosperity, creativity and entrepreneurship?

Well, how about we take a look at the official bill language and attempt to translate all of the politispeak into real talk, why don’t we?

…Authorizes the Attorney General (AG) to seek a court order against a U.S.-directed foreign Internet site committing or facilitating online piracy to require the owner, operator, or domain name registrant, or the site or domain name itself if such persons are unable to be found, to cease and desist further activities constituting specified intellectual property offenses under the federal criminal code including criminal copyright infringement, unauthorized fixation and trafficking of sound recordings or videos of live musical performances, the recording of exhibited motion pictures, or trafficking in counterfeit labels, goods, or services.

Basically, the bill gives the U.S. Attorney General the ability to say “eff you” to INTERPOL and go straight to the source if somebody overseas decides to pirate some Disney DVDS or trade Adele MP3s on torrent sites. The bill language also targets international bootleggers and counterfeiters, so if you thought you were safe selling burnt Dr. Dre CDs in the Cayman Islands, think again muchacho.

…Sets forth an additional two-step process that allows an intellectual property right holder harmed by a U.S.-directed site dedicated to infringement, or a site promoted or used for infringement under certain circumstances, to first provide a written notification identifying the site to related payment network providers and Internet advertising services requiring such entities to forward the notification and suspend their services to such an identified site unless the site's owner, operator, or domain name registrant, upon receiving the forwarded notification, provides a counter notification explaining that it is not dedicated to engaging in specified violations. Authorizes the right holder to then commence an action for limited injunctive relief against the owner, operator, or domain name registrant, or against the site or domain name itself if such persons are unable to be found, if: (1) such a counter notification is provided (and, if it is a foreign site, includes consent to U.S. jurisdiction to adjudicate whether the site is dedicated to such violations), or (2) a payment network provider or Internet advertising service fails to suspend its services in the absence of such a counter notification.

So, what happens to all of you American pirates, you may be wondering? Well, under SOPA, the first course of actions is getting PayPal and AdSense to IMMEDIATELY suspend payment to you.

…Requires online service providers, Internet search engines, payment network providers, and Internet advertising services, upon receiving a copy of a court order relating to an AG action, to carry out certain preventative measures including withholding services from an infringing site or preventing users located in the United States from accessing the infringing site. Requires payment network providers and Internet advertising services, upon receiving a copy of such an order relating to a right holder's action, to carry out similar preventative measures.

Oh, and Internet Service Providers and Google HAVE to block access to your site for other users, too.

…Provides immunity from liability for service providers, payment network providers, Internet advertising services, advertisers, Internet search engines, domain name registries, or domain name registrars that take actions required by this Act or otherwise voluntarily block access to or end financial affiliation with such sites.

But because they paid their protection money, those Internet Service Providers and Google are SAFE from lawsuits and court-ordered shutdowns.

…Permits such entities to stop or refuse services to certain sites that endanger public health by distributing prescription medication that is adulterated, misbranded, or without a valid prescription.

So, yeah, now is probably a good time to start hoarding ExstenZe if you already haven’t.

…Expands the offense of criminal copyright infringement to include public performances of: (1) copyrighted work by digital transmission, and (2) work intended for commercial dissemination by making it available on a computer network. Expands the criminal offenses of trafficking in inherently dangerous goods or services to include: (1) counterfeit drugs; and (2) goods or services falsely identified as meeting military standards or intended for use in a national security, law enforcement, or critical infrastructure application.

Increases the penalties for: (1) specified trade secret offenses intended to benefit a foreign government, instrumentality, or agent; and (2) various other intellectual property offenses as amended by this Act.

So, yes, according to the U.S. government, peddling live Dave Matthews videos on YouTube and attempting to supply the military with phony weaponry are EQUIVALENT crimes.

Now that you know what SOPA entails, how about we take a gander at its potential ramifications for the Internet in general?

Now, how would this affect the Internet?

First and foremost, if SOPA is enacted, it poses a SERIOUS risk to freedom of expression on the Internet, potentially creating a chilling effect that tremendously endangers any and all forms of user-generated content on the Web. Furthermore, some analysts say that the far reaching, international scope of the Act could allow governments to enforce other forms of speech regulation, which would serve as a legal precedent to outlaw unwanted political speech in all formats, and not just on the ‘net.

Then, there’s the impact on hosting sites, like Google and YouTube. Sites dependent on user-generated content - from Facebook to DeviantArt - would most likely have to suspend their services or HEAVILY regulate their sites to keep unauthorized content from showing up on their networks. Additionally, the Act would SERIOUSLY hamper the U.S. economy, as it would give hosting sites a definite reason to take their servers overseas, as well as keep venture capital out of the mitts of would-be start-up companies.

The Act would also do considerable harm to open-source projects. Case in point? Mozilla, who last year, was threatened by the U.S.government into pulling its MAFIAAFire Redirector add-on from its site.

Clearly, SOPA would have an immense and immediate effect on the Internet and how we use it. But what’s really scary is how the Act might just affect you as an individual. . .

Yeah, but how could it affect MY life?

Hey, remember back in the day, when you changed your Facebook profile pic to Leonardo from the Ninja Turtles? Well, under SOPA, you just committed a felony. . .the kind of felony that involves a shit load of fines and a potential stay at a federal pound you in the ass prison.

As written, the language of SOPA is so broad that there really isn’t a distinction between punishments for commercial and non-commercial intellectual property use. That means, under the legislation right now, there is NO legal difference between you posting a live Hootie and the Blowfish performance you recorded on your cell phone to YouTube and some Chinese national attempting to sell malware loaded services to the Pentagon. SOPA covers such a massive amount of territory that it would stop the Internet dead in its tracks, ultimately resulting in a heavily monitored medium (even though those SOPA folks, of course, say that isn’t the intentions of the legislation.)

The legislation, as it is at the current, means that entire networks could get shut down for one time offenses. That means that if a web site designer hits up the torrents at his own home, federal officials would have a legal foothold to go after the entire company he works for. And if this shit wasn’t all 1984 sounding enough for you, the act gives federal agents the legal right to do some deep packet inspections of your personal network. . .meaning, ostensibly, that the Internet would be watching you under SOPA.

Now that I hear some pee pee splashing next to your battery cable, how about we look at what we can do to combat such a potentially freedom-raping piece of legislation?

Well, what the hell can I do about it?

There are a ton of companies out there in support of SOPA, but thankfully, there are just as many big time operations and organizations out there that are fighting against it. America Online, eBay, Mozilla, the Wikipedia people, Mark Zuckerberg, DynDS and Skynet itself have all said they’d go to bat for humanity if SOPA was passed, and a so have the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Reporters Without  Borders.

Depending on how strongly you feel about “protesting through consumerism,” you can always choose to support opponents of SOPA and refuse to support proponents of the Act, but yeah, like we have the time and patience for something like that. Furthermore, you can always send a letter to your representatives in government telling them how stupid you think SOPA is, but since they’ll probably just delete your e-mail, perhaps the best option, for the time being, is spreading information about the legislation and its potential ramifications for the Web.

After all, as history has shown us time and time again, a whole lot of really pissed off people in support of something are typically more effective at promulgating change than just some really pissed off people in support of something.

Just how likely is this stuff to pass, anyway?

Well, if last month’s mark-up session was any indication, a whole hell of a lot likelier than we probably want it to. As the Senate version of SOPA approaches a hearing later this month, there's a very strong chance that legislative support for the bill could increase and not decrease...which, obviously, spells trouble for just about everybody reading this.

On the plus side, things as ambitious as SOPA usually go through about a hundred or so changes before getting approved, and even then, it’s an absolute 1,000 percent guarantee that, no matter what the bill looks like if it gets passed, somebody will take it to the Supreme Court, and pending the entire gallery isn’t replaced by hyper-capitalists in the immediate future, it’s very, very unlikely that the bill would survive a strict scrutiny review by the SCOTUS.

The problem is, between now and then (and especially, god help us, if the bill somehow maintains legality after the inevitable court challenges). Alike a certain patriotic act from several years ago, the bill gives so much power to prosecutors and so very little to defendants that it seems as if it would be impossible for anyone to fight the bill if it were to be authorized.

The problem with SOPA is that, while it will almost certainly be defeated (or at the least, SERIOUSLY restricted) in the future, at the interim, it serves as a serious risk to just about anybody that relies on Internet services for any substantial aspect of his or her life. It clearly puts a clamp on user-generated content of ALL varieties on the ‘net, and it’s almost certain to negatively affect e-commerce as a result. Under the guise of “national security,” SOPA would serve as a catalyst for the complete and utter federal regulation of the Web, which means a lot of the things we take for granted today - posting videos on forums, sharing links on our blogs, and even swapping files through personal e-mails - could not only become seriously restricted, but perhaps even outlawed outright.

More than likely, H.R. 3261 will never get enacted to its fullest capacity, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t do a tremendous amount of damage to our Internet freedoms even in an abridged form.

At the end of the day, should you still be concerned about SOPA, though?

Well, if you’re reading this, that means you’re probably doing so via the Internet. And if you’re a regular user of the Web, rest assured…some way, somehow, the Stop Online Piracy Act WILL end up affecting your virtual life, whether it gets enacted or not.

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