Heated debates over the proposed bills Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the United States House of Representatives and Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate came to a head recently when tech and Internet companies like Wikipedia, Facebook, Google, Wordpress, Reddit and more than 10,000 websites held a blackout to protest the two pending bills.
SOPA and PIPA are being presented by their supporters as efforts to stamp out piracy or copyright infringement, particularly those committed by foreign websites. Opponents, however, have said that these bills are not just unnecessary "given the existence of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)" but that they also pose security risks to the Internet; stunt innovation; cause the erosion of due process; threaten free speech; and block the free flow of information, jeopardizing the very fundamentals of the Internet itself.
The New York Times' Rebecca MacKinnon, in her article "Stop the Great Firewall of America," has described the bills and their effects as heading the way of China's system of Internet censorship. "The intention is not the same as China's Great Firewall, a nationwide system of Web censorship," MacKinnon said. "But the practical effect could be similar."
Exactly how far-reaching are these proposed bills? And how will they affect Internet-based or Internet-dependent jobs and companies outside the United States? What are their impacts on the SEO, Internet Marketing and BPO companies in countries like the Philippines, which rely heavily on several US-based websites?
HERE ARE JUST SOME OF THE WAYS:
As we know, a less secure Internet is bad for any Internet-dependent business.
"Because on big sites like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube (etc.) are posted daily millions of links from users, but under the bill, these sites would literally be unable to function, as the amount of copyright infringing content that gets posted would be completely beyond their control. So this will also affect smaller businesses that owe most of their popularity and recognition on the real market to these big sites!"
Ahrens, in her Stanford Law School website blog entry entitled "Stop Censorship: The Problems with SOPA," stressed that SOPA kills innovation. "By vastly increasing the risks associated with hosting user-generated content, SOPA will make it far more difficult to start new internet companies. If SOPA had been the law, it is doubtful that Facebook or YouTube would have been able to launch."
"Courts would be able to order any Internet service provider to stop recognizing an accused site immediately upon application by the Attorney General, after an ex parte hearing. By failing to guarantee the challenged websites notice or an opportunity to be heard in court before their sites are shutdown, SOPA violates due process."
Some companies might also manipulate the loopholes in these laws and use them to create a sort of list of the sites that they would like to blocked or censored. Trevor Timm, in his blog entry "How PIPA and SOPA Violate White House Principles Supporting Free Speech and Innovation" posted on eff.org explained:
"As we noted months ago, this provision would allow the MPAA and RIAA to create literal blacklists of sites they want censored. Intermediaries would find themselves under pressure to act to avoid court orders, creating a vehicle for corporations to censor sites" even those in the U.S. "without any legal oversight. And as Public Knowledge has pointed out, not only could this provision be used for bogus copyright claims that are protected by fair use, but large corporations could take advantage of it to stamp out emerging competitors and skirt anti-trust laws."
Wikipedia gave this example:
"in its current form, SOPA could require Wikipedia to actively monitor every site we link to, to ensure it doesn't host infringing content. Any link to an infringing site could put us in jeopardy of being forced offline."
Recent academic research on global Internet censorship has found that in countries where heavy legal liability is imposed on companies, employees tasked with day-to-day censorship jobs have a strong incentive to play it safe and over-censor, even in the case of content whose legality might stand a good chance of holding up in a court of law. Why invite legal hassle when you can just hit "delete"?
David Drummond, Google SVP Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer added in his post that this censorship of the web would "provide incentives for American companies to shut down, block access to and stop servicing U.S. and foreign websites that copyright and trademark owners allege are illegal without any due process or ability of a wrongfully targeted website to seek restitution."
Timm gave this as an example of abuse of the provision:
"For instance, an Internet service provider could block DNS requests for a website offering online video that competed with its cable television offerings, based upon "credible evidence" that the site was, in its own estimation, promoting its use for infringement....While the amendment requires that the action be taken in good faith, the blocked site now bears the burden of proving either its innocence or the bad faith of its accuser in order to be unblocked."
Your website could be that online video website in the example.
Sean Flynn at InfoJustice.org added that this kind of "search blocking" that was included in SOPA and PIPA is "widely regarded as Internet censorship."
Timm also said in his blog entry posted on eff.org that the pending bills would empower the Attorney General to 'de-list websites from search engines, which, as Google Chairman Eric Schmidt noted, would still "criminalize linking and the fundamental structure of the Internet itself."
WHAT HAPPENS NOW
As of now, SOPA and PIPA have stopped "temporarily" their march in both the Senate and the Congress. After the protests, the White House released a statement that said, "While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cyber security risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet."
Both bills, however, are far from dead. Their proponents plan to bring them up for mark-up next month. Those who opposed SOPA and PIPA plan to "and should" remain vigilant so that the bills, as they are currently written, would not be passed.
Jim Hedger of Digital Always Media "as cited by Miranda Miller in her blog entry on searchenginewatch.com" said that the solution is to draft the bill with all parties represented. "I'd like to see people who understand how the information works; I'd like to see a cross-section of people at the table. Content creators, law professors, copyright holders, philosophers, the MPAA, and the RIAA, there's a place at the table for them," he said. "Whoever makes the media products should be at the table, along with people who actually understand the environment. It can't just be up to the copyright holders. If it is, they're just protecting their own interests at the detriment of the consumers and Internet users."
The resulting bill/bills should ideally be a balance between the rights of creators of content (the copyright owners) and the rights of web users to a free and open Internet.