In solidarity with Reddit and other sites, this site is blacked out today (January 18th) in protest against SOPA and PROTECT IP laws. These laws are a threat to free speech and to the freedom of the Internet. Please contact your congressional representative and tell them to vote 'No' on this law.

What is so bad about SOPA and PROTECT IP?

Threat to online freedom of speech

According to the EFF, proxy servers, such as those used during the Arab Spring, can also be used to thwart copyright enforcement and therefore may be made illegal by the act.

On TIME's Techland blog, Jerry Brito wrote, "Imagine if the U.K. created a blacklist of American newspapers that its courts found violated celebrities' privacy? Or what if France blocked American sites it believed contained hate speech?" Similarly, the Center for Democracy and Technology warned, "If SOPA and PIPA are enacted, the US government must be prepared for other governments to follow suit, in service to whatever social policies they believe are important—whether restricting hate speech, insults to public officials, or political dissent."

Laurence H. Tribe, a Harvard University professor of constitutional law, released an open letter on the web stating that SOPA would “undermine the openness and free exchange of information at the heart of the Internet. And it would violate the First Amendment.”

The AFL-CIO's Paul Almeida, arguing in favor of SOPA, has stated that free speech was not a relevant consideration, because "The First Amendment does not protect stealing goods off trucks."

Negative impact on websites that host user content

Journalist Rebecca MacKinnon argued in an op-ed that making companies liable for users' actions could have a chilling effect on user-generated sites like YouTube. "The intention is not the same as China’s Great Firewall, a nationwide system of Web censorship, but the practical effect could be similar", she says.

The EFF has warned that Etsy, Flickr and Vimeo all seem likely to shut down if the bill becomes law. According to critics, the bill would ban linking to sites deemed offending, even in search results and on services such as Twitter.

Christian Dawson, COO of Virginia-based hosting company ServInt, predicted that the legislation would lead to many cloud computing and Web hosting services moving out of the US to avoid lawsuits.

Conversely, Michael O'Leary of the MPAA argued at the November 16 Judiciary Committee hearing that the act's effect on business would be more minimal, noting that at least 16 countries block websites, and the internet still functions in those countries. Denmark, Finland, Ireland and Italy blocked The Pirate Bay after courts ruled in favor of music and film industry litigation, and a coalition of film and record companies has threatened to sue British Telecom if it does not follow suit. Maria Pallante of the US Copyright Office said that Congress has updated the Copyright Act before and should again, or "the U.S. copyright system will ultimately fail." Asked for clarification, she said that the US currently lacks jurisdiction over websites in other countries.

Weakening of "safe harbor" protections for websites

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), passed in 1998, includes a provision, known as the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act, that provides a "safe harbor" for websites that host content. Under that provision, copyright owners who feel that a website is hosting content that infringes on their copyright are required to submit a notice to that website to ask for the infringing material to be removed, and the website is then given a certain amount of time to remove such material. SOPA would override this "safe harbor" provision, by allowing judges to immediately block access to any website found guilty of hosting copyrighted material.

According to critics of the bill such as the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the bill's wording is vague enough that a single complaint about even a major website could be enough to cause the site to be blocked, with the burden of proof then resting on the website to get itself un-blocked. The focus of much of the criticism is on a statement in the bill, that any website would be blocked that "is taking, or has taken deliberate actions to avoid confirming a high probability of the use of the U.S.-directed site to carry out acts that constitute a violation." Critics have read this to mean that a website that does not actively monitor its content for copyright violations, but instead waits for others to notify it of such violations, could be guilty under the law.

Law professor Jason Mazzone wrote, "Damages are also not available to the site owner unless a claimant 'knowingly materially' misrepresented that the law covers the targeted site, a difficult legal test to meet. The owner of the site can issue a counter-notice to restore payment processing and advertising but services need not comply with the counter-notice".

Goodlatte stated, "We're open to working with them on language to narrow [the bill's provisions], but I think it is unrealistic to think we're going to continue to rely on the DMCA notice-and-takedown provision. Anybody who is involved in providing services on the Internet would be expected to do some things. But we are very open to tweaking the language to ensure we don't impose extraordinary burdens on legitimate companies as long as they aren't the primary purveyors [of pirated content]".

The MPAA's O'Leary submitted written testimony in favor of the bill that expressed guarded support of current DMCA provisions. "Where these sites are legitimate and make good faith efforts to respond to our requests, this model works with varying degrees of effectiveness," O'Leary wrote. "It does not, however, always work quickly, and it is not perfect, but it works."

General threat to web-related businesses

A news analysis in the information technology magazine eWeek stated, "The language of SOPA is so broad, the rules so unconnected to the reality of Internet technology and the penalties so disconnected from the alleged crimes that this bill could effectively kill e-commerce or even normal Internet use. The bill also has grave implications for existing U.S., foreign and international laws and is sure to spend decades in court challenges."

Art Bordsky of advocacy group Public Knowledge similarly stated that "The definitions written in the bill are so broad that any US consumer who uses a website overseas immediately gives the US jurisdiction the power to potentially take action against it."

On October 28, 2011, the EFF called the bill a "massive piece of job-killing Internet regulation," and said, "This bill cannot be fixed; it must be killed."

Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, spoke out strongly against the bill, stating that "The bill attempts a radical restructuring of the laws governing the Internet," and that "It would undo the legal safe harbors that have allowed a world-leading Internet industry to flourish over the last decade. It would expose legitimate American businesses and innovators to broad and open-ended liability. The result will be more lawsuits, decreased venture capital investment, and fewer new jobs."

Lukas Biewald, founder of CrowdFlower, stated that "It'll have a stifling effect on venture capital... No one would invest because of the legal liability."

Booz & Company on November 16 released a study, funded by Google, finding that almost all of the 200 venture capitalists and angel investors interviewed would stop funding digital media intermediaries if the House bill becomes law. More than 80 percent said they would rather invest in a risky, weak economy with the current laws than a strong economy with the proposed law in effect. If legal ambiguities were removed and good faith provisions in place, investing would increase by nearly 115 percent.

As reported by David Carr of the New York Times in an article critical of SOPA and PIPA, Google, Facebook, Twitter and other companies sent a joint letter to Congress, stating "We support the bills’ stated goals — providing additional enforcement tools to combat foreign ‘rogue’ Web sites that are dedicated to copyright infringement or counterfeiting. However, the bills as drafted would expose law-abiding U.S. Internet and technology companies to new uncertain liabilities, private rights of action and technology mandates that would require monitoring of Web sites.” In response to Carr's article, bill sponsor and Committee Chairman Lamar Smith said the article "unfairly criticizes the Stop Online Piracy Act", and, "does not point to any language in the bill to back up the claims. SOPA targets only foreign Web sites that are primarily dedicated to illegal and infringing activity. Domestic Web sites, like blogs, are not covered by this legislation." Lamar also said that Carr incorrectly framed the debate as between the entertainment industry and high-tech companies, noting support by more than "120 groups and associations across diverse industries, including the United States Chamber of Commerce".

Threat to users uploading content

Lateef Mtima, director of the Institute for Intellectual Property and Social Justice at Howard University School of Law, expressed concern that users who upload copyrighted content to sites such as YouTube could potentially be held criminally liable themselves, saying, "Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the bill is that the conduct it would criminalize is so poorly defined. While on its face the bill seems to attempt to distinguish between commercial and non-commercial conduct, purportedly criminalizing the former and permitting the latter, in actuality the bill not only fails to accomplish this but, because of its lack of concrete definitions, it potentially criminalizes conduct that is currently permitted under the law."

An aide to bill sponsor Lamar Smith has said, "This bill does not make it a felony for a person to post a video on YouTube of their children singing to a copyrighted song. The bill specifically targets websites dedicated to illegal or infringing activity. Sites that host user content—like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter—have nothing to be concerned about under this legislation".

Threat to internal networks

A paper by the Center for Democracy and Technology says that the bill "targets an entire website even if only a small portion hosts or links to some infringing content."

According to A. M. Reilly of Industry Leaders Magazine, under SOPA, culpability for distributing copyright material is extended to those who aid the initial poster of said material. For companies that use virtual private networks to create a network that appears to be internal but is spread across various offices and employees' homes, any of these offsite locations that initiate sharing of copyright material can put the entire VPN and hosting company at risk of violation.

Answering similar criticism in a CNET editorial, RIAA head Cary Sherman wrote: "Actually, it's quite the opposite. By focusing on specific sites rather than entire domains, action can be targeted against only the illegal subdomain or Internet protocol address rather than taking action against the entire domain."

Threat to free and open source software

The Electronic Frontier Foundation expressed concern that free and open source software (FLOSS) projects found to be aiding online piracy may experience serious problems under SOPA. Of special concern is the web browser Firefox, made by Open-Source advocate Mozilla, which has a plug-in, MAFIAAFire Redirector, that redirects users to the new location for domains that were seized by the U.S. government. In May 2011, Mozilla refused a request by the Department of Homeland Security to pull MAFIAAFire from its website, asking "Have any courts determined that the Mafiaafire add-on is unlawful or illegal in any way?"

Ineffectual against piracy

Edward J. Black, president and CEO of the Computer & Communication Industry Association, wrote in the Huffington Post that "Ironically, it would do little to stop actual pirate websites, which could simply reappear hours later under a different name, if their numeric web addresses aren't public even sooner. Anyone who knows or has that web address would still be able to reach the offending website."

An editorial in the San Jose Mercury-News stated, "Imagine the resources required to parse through the millions of Google and Facebook offerings every day looking for pirates who, if found, can just toss up another site in no time."

Deep-packet inspection and invasion of privacy

According to Markham Erickson, head of NetCoalition, which opposes SOPA, the section of the bill that would allow judges to order internet service providers to block access to infringing websites to customers located in the United States would also allow the checking of those customers' IP address, a method known as IP blocking. Erickson has expressed concerns that such an order might require those providers to engage in "deep packet inspection", which involves analyzing all of the content being transmitted to and from the user, and may raise new privacy concerns.

Negative impact on DNS, DNSSEC and Internet security

The Domain Name System (DNS) servers, most often equated with a phone directory, translate browser requests for domain names into the IP address assigned to that computer or network. The bill requires these servers to stop referring requests for infringing domains to their assigned IP addresses.

Andrew Lee, CEO of ESET North America, has expressed concerns that since the bill would require internet service providers to filter DNS queries for the sites, this would undermine the integrity of the Domain Name System.

Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), whose district includes part of Silicon Valley, has called the bill "the end of the internet as we know it."

According to David Ulevitch, the San Francisco-based head of OpenDNS, the passage of SOPA could cause Americans to switch to DNS providers located in other countries who offer encrypted links, and may cause U.S. providers, such as OpenDNS itself, to move to other countries, such as the Cayman Islands.

In November 2011, a new anonymous top-level domain, .bit, was launched outside of ICANN control, as a response to the perceived threat from SOPA, although its effectiveness (as well as the effectiveness of other alternative DNS roots) remains unknown.

Internet security

A white paper by several internet security experts, including Steve Crocker and Dan Kaminsky, wrote, "From an operational standpoint, a resolution failure from a nameserver subject to a court order and from a hacked nameserver would be indistinguishable. Users running secure applications have a need to distinguish between policy-based failures and failures caused, for example, by the presence of an attack or a hostile network, or else downgrade attacks would likely be prolific."

DNSSEC

There have been concerns raised that SOPA would harm the usefulness of the Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC), a set of protocols developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) for ensuring internet security. A white paper by the Brookings Institution wrote that "The DNS system is based on trust," adding that DNSSEC was developed to prevent malicious redirection of DNS traffic, and that "other forms of redirection will break the assurances from this security tool."

On November 17, Sandia National Laboratories, a research agency of the U.S. Department of Energy, released a technical assessment of the DNS filtering provisions in the House and Senate bills, in response to a request from Rep. Lofgren. The assessment stated of both bills that the DNS filtering would be unlikely to be effective, would negatively impact internet security, and would delay full implementation of DNSSEC.

On November 18, House cybersecurity subcommittee chairman Dan Lungren stated that he had "very serious concerns" about SOPA's impact on DNSSEC, adding, "we don't have enough information, and if this is a serious problem as was suggested by some of the technical experts that got in touch with me, we have to address it."

Lack of transparency in enforcement

Brooklyn Law School professor Jason Mazzone warned, "Much of what will happen under SOPA will occur out of the public eye and without the possibility of holding anyone accountable. For when copyright law is made and enforced privately, it is hard for the public to know the shape that the law takes and harder still to complain about its operation."

Who are my congressional representatives and how do I contact them?

Congress needs to hear from all of us or this bill is going to pass. Each representative usually publishes their phone number, email address, or a contact form on their individual official websites. Links to their websites can be found in these directories:

I don't live in the US. What can I do?

The US State Department constantly speaks out against internet censorship in other countries. Pressure them to speak out against America’s new domestic censorship system.

How do I blackout my blog with this template?

Blogger users:
  1. Download a backup of your original Blogger template FIRST!!! If you do not do this, you will not be able to restore your blog.
  2. Download the SOPA Blackout template from here.
  3. Extract the .xml template file from the .zip file.
  4. Upload the SOPA Blackout .xml template at 8am on Jan 18, 2012.
  5. Upload the backup of your original template at 8pm on Jan 18, 2012.
  6. This November, send donations to the competitors of those politicians who voted for SOPA.
Wordpress users:

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