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SOPA/PIPA Blackout - Sophie
my journal
January 2012

Date: 2012-01-18 07:51
Security: Public
Tags:big posts, pipa, politics, sopa
Subject: SOPA/PIPA Blackout

[this is a public post]

Today, I've blacked out my journal over at Dreamwidth for 24 hours in order to raise awareness of SOPA/PIPA, alongside many other websites, including Wikipedia.

Please note: SOPA is still a threat, despite the news reports recently that it was shelved indefinitely. (Lamar Smith plans to resume SOPA's markup in February.)

I'm only doing this on DW, for two reasons:

a) DW is now my primary home. Most people are watching me there, as far as I know, and keeping LJ up allows me to make posts like this one (which I'll repost to DW after the blackout);
b) LJ doesn't have any way to specify *why* a journal was 'deleted'. This would mean that people might worry about me.

Why am I doing this, even though I'm located in the UK and the bill is a US one? Because most of the sites I use on the Internet are based in the US.

"But Sophie, the bill only affects sites overseas!"

No, it doesn't. It really, really doesn't. (People who think this are only looking at section 102 of the bill.) Take a look at section 103 of the bill in question, HR 3261 (added emphasis is mine):

(a) Definitions- In this section:

(1) DEDICATED TO THEFT OF U.S. PROPERTY- An `Internet site is dedicated to theft of U.S. property' if--

(A) it is an Internet site, or a portion thereof, that is a U.S.-directed site and is used by users within the United States; and...
Okay, so what does the bill consider to be a site 'dedicated to theft of US property', exactly? It means sites which, as stated above, are located in the US, *and* where...
(B) either--

(i) the U.S.-directed site is primarily designed or operated for the purpose of, has only limited purpose or use other than, or is marketed by its operator or another acting in concert with that operator for use in, offering goods or services in a manner that engages in, enables, or facilitates--

(I) a violation of section 501 of title 17, United States Code;

(II) a violation of section 1201 of title 17, United States Code; or

(III) the sale, distribution, or promotion of goods, services, or materials bearing a counterfeit mark, as that term is defined in section 34(d) of the Lanham Act or section 2320 of title 18, United States Code; or

(ii) the operator of the U.S.-directed site--

(I) 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 of section 501 or 1201 of title 17, United States Code; or

(II) operates the U.S.-directed site with the object of promoting, or has promoted, its use to carry out acts that constitute a violation of section 501 or 1201 of title 17, United States Code, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement.
Emphasis is mine, again. Notice how weaselly this bit is. It's meant to stop sites from being able to claim that they have nothing to do with piracy, but it doesn't give any leeway to sites that could potentially be used for piracy, and it never defines what the 'deliberate actions' include. And *this* is why people are saying that many sites like YouTube will shut down under the bill - because that's the only way they can be sure that they wouldn't be classified as a 'site dedicated to theft of US property', even though it's nothing of the sort. (It's true that YouTube has copyright violation up the wazoo, but it's nowhere *near* a site dedicated to it. In fact, they put a great deal of effort in detecting violations when they occur. This job is difficult enough, but the added pressure of SOPA would force them to take action.)

(TL;DR: A "site dedicated to theft of US property" is one located in the US and where the owner(s) have taken 'deliberate actions' to avoid confirming 'a high probability' of copyright infringement. The 'deliberate actions' are left undefined, as is what 'a high probability' means, and this is what makes the bill so dangerous.)

So what happens to a 'site dedicated to theft of US property'? Namely, a complete cutoff from anything that could provide financial support to that site - payment merchants such as PayPal or 2Checkout would be forced to deny payments to the site from its members/subscribers, and advertising networks would be forced to deny the site any ads.

Combine the unspecific nature of the bill with the financial cutoff penalty, and you have a perfect recipe for governmental censorship. And no, of course the government wouldn't use it to shut down YouTube, but they wouldn't need to. Services like YouTube simply cannot afford to fall foul of a law like this, and if the bill passed, it would give the government a *reason* to shut YouTube down. That's all they need, because with the threat of that hanging in the air, they could ask YouTube to do damn well anything and they'd have to comply. Blackmail, in other words.

I'll probably write more on this topic later, but for now, I hope I've given a good explanation of why this would be bad for the Internet as a whole, and why I've chosen to black out my journal for the day.

[edit 9:49pm GMT: For people in the UK, here's a petition on direct.gov calling on the UK government to condemn SOPA and PIPA: https://submissions.epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/26143 ]

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