01/15/2012 : OPPOSITION TO S.O.P.A. GROWS
Gaming companies plan black-outs as congressional committee hearing approaches
Organisations and companies concerned for the freedom of the Internet are increasingly gearing up to fight the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the run-up to a key Congressional committee hearing scheduled for January 18.
The House Judiciary Committee will again consider bill HR 3261, a measure ostensibly designed to combat copyright privacy which has draconian provisions that could be misused in other attempts to erode the independence and freedom of the Internet, according to activists.
Supporters of the bill say it protects the intellectual property market and corresponding industry, jobs and revenue, and is necessary to bolster enforcement of copyright laws especially against foreign websites.
Some of HR 3261's provisions will be familiar to online gamblers, such as restrictions on payment processors and domain seizures, and there are clauses that hold Internet Service Providers, social networks, online advertising networks to account. Even search engines can be barred from directly linking to websites found to be distributing pirated goods.
Following recent reports that US enforcement authorities pursuing copyright and other offenders are already misusing extradition treaties that were arranged to combat terrorism, there is some justification for concern.
The latest to join the fight is Major League Gaming (MLG), which is to take part in a global blackout initiative next week to draw attention to the controversy. MLG network websites plan to black out between 8 am and 8 pm Eastern Time on the day of the committee meeting, displaying messages that point to the dangers of the bill.
MLG has taken the assault one stage further, removing some 100 of its domains from domains registrar GoDaddy to underline its disappointment with that organisation's support for the controversial legalization. Ironically, GoDaddy has stepped back from its support recently as the public furore over the bill mounted.
MLG is not the only protester to take action; web news provider Reddit has also noted its opposition and will probably join the black-out. Gaming giant Destructoid is going offline on the 18th, as is the entire 50-site network of Cheezburger, a move announced by founder Ben Huh on Twitter.
The new bill, if passed, can send offenders to prison for up to five years just for streaming copyrighted material more than ten times in 180 days, and there are fears that its wording is too vague, giving excessive scope for enforcement misinterpretation.
The ambiguities in the bill allow companies to bring charges against any site which allows the posting of copyrighted material. For example, this could result in a social networker who innocently posts a copyrighted picture on his or her personal page endangering the network itself.
Major players like Google, Yahoo and AOL appear to be taking a relatively passive stance on the issue at present, but Wikipedia founder James Wales has been vocal in his protests.
In November last year Google, Facebook, Twitter, Zynga, eBay, Mozilla, Yahoo, AOL and LinkedIn wrote a letter to key members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, saying SOPA poses "a serious risk to our industry's continued track record of innovation and job creation, as well as to our nation's cyber security."
The companies have additionally taken our newspaper ads urging Washington lawmakers to rethink their approach.
Yahoo has reportedly quit the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over that organisation's enthusiastic support for SOPA.
Wordpress came out with a strong condemnation of SOPA this week, providing a plug-in which lets users join the cause by displaying a customisable ‘webblackout day' page on January 18.
Proponents of social networking, a major internet phenomenon used by tens of millions daily, are also worried about the implications of SOPA for networks like Facebook and Twitter.
A Forbes columnist, Paul Tassi, is trying to motivate Facebook users to generate a flood of censored posts on the site to coincide with the blackout on the 18th, with over 5,600 joining the effort within the first 24 hours.
Political opposition to the bill also appears to be mounting, with politically bipartisan congressmen and women like Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann and Nancy Pelosi all critical of the measure.
Media experts have pointed out that the end effect of SOPA will be a dangerous form of Internet censorship. Rebecca MacKinnon, journalist and one of the founders of Global Voices Online, is on record as writing that SOPA's practical impact will be not dissimilar to Chinese censorship of the Web, despite the motivation being different.
None of the bill's detractors support intellectual piracy, but the SOPA solution is being increasingly condemned as a threat to both freedom of speech and the continued development of the Internet, and as such needs far more thought.
One opponent succinctly observed: "SOPA is the politicians’ way of stating that the ends justify the means. But with such woefully unclear goals, who can be sure where these new and terrible powers will lead us?"
Late last year CNET published a sensible assessment of the impact of SOPA, which can be found here:
White House officials have joined the growing number of Americans disturbed by the ‘heavy-handed' provisions in the SOPA, MSN reported Saturday.
In a blog posting, three advisers to the US president said they believed SOPA and other bills could make businesses on the Internet vulnerable to litigation and harm legal activity and free speech.
"Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small," said the officials, including White House cyber-security chief Howard Schmidt.
Schmidt said the administration was ready to work with lawmakers on a "narrower, more targeted approach to online piracy" to ensure that legitimate businesses would not be harmed.
The comments were immediately attacked by the bill's author, Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Judiciary Committee.
"It is not censorship to enforce the law against foreign thieves," said Smith, who estimated intellectual-property industries provide 19 million high-paying U.S. jobs and account for more than 60 percent of American exports.
"Congress cannot stand by and do nothing while some of America's most profitable and productive industries are under attack," he said in a statement responding to the White House.
The Recording Industry Association of America, noting the United States is the world's top exporter of creative works, said it was intolerable for Internet companies to be allowed "to direct law-abiding consumers to unlawful and dangerous sites."
However, Sherwin Siy, a legal spokesman for the consumer rights group Public Knowledge, called on lawmakers to set aside the existing bills and instead work on a new "consensus bill" responding to the White House concerns.
"The messages being sent by the public in opposition to this bill are finally getting through to Washington," Siy said.