Jan 182012

President Obama and various members of Congress have recently intimated that the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) would not pass until one of its more controversial provisions is removed. That’s all well and good, but SOPA is still an awful bill.

SOPA is intended to fight piracy of both copyrighted works (like music and movies) and physical goods (like face Gucci purses) by going after the websites and other internet services that make these goods available. That makes a lot of sense if the people who are running those websites are held responsible. Unfortunately, SOPA is an enormous overreach that tramples all over the rights of overseas internet services.

Here’s the problem: these bills require advertising networks and payment processors (e.g. credit-card companies or paypal) to cut off access to websites when they receive a complaint that the website infringes either a copyright or trademark. There’s no court-order required: if they get a complaint, they have to cut off the website. Further, if the advertising network or payment processor doesn’t, then the person giving the notice can hale them into court to demand an explanation of why they didn’t!

Now, yes, the site has a chance to contest the order once they find out about it — if they do, then they have to both identify themselves to the person (or company) who issues the complaint and agree to be sued in the United States! But, even if they do, there’s no requirement that the advertiser or payment processor reinstate service. In fact, it’s likely that the site would continue to be cut-off until a judge says they’re legit.

The big problem is that the companies who would be most likely to issue these complaints — the content industry — has a horrible track record. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act has a vaguely similar notice-and-takedown procedure, and the content industry is famous for issuing completely bogus complaints. Consider, for example, the bogus takedown of a video that supported filesharing or Warner Brothers’ admission that it issued takedown requests on material it didn’t own.  SOPA would allow the content industry to similarly impede the speech of foreign websites, without any judicial oversight. (Even worse, think about the havoc one rogue guy issuing bogus complaints could cause.)

The EFF has more in their article What’s Wrong With SOPA. Well worth the read.