The Problem with SOPA (And How to Stop It)

The Problem with SOPA (And How to Stop It)

Reader Comments (189)

  1. The bit that riles me up most is that it’s not limited to US businesses. It’s a sweeping act that tries to give US copyright holders extra-judicial powers over foreign websites. Which is just plain ridiculous.

    • How do they plan on doing that? I just don’t get it.

      We have a big censorship thing happening in Australia too but it doesn’t seem this expansive.

      It will be interesting to see what economic damage is done when Google is turned off.

      • Tyrant, U.S. government or private entities (like media companies) can block visitors from seeing your domain by filing an allegation that you either have copyrighted material on your site or that someone who’s posted information (like a commenter) has.

        Visitors could still reach you by typing in your IP address, but realistically that’s not going to happen.

      • ICANN is headquartered in the US, so it falls under US jurisdiction. It’s been a pain point internationally since the Internet took off. SOPA passing would probably be the thing that pushes the world to force the issue.

      • How do they plan on doing that?

        While domain names and web sites are practically worldwide, the hardware and people who manage them (especially the domain names) are within the U.S. They’re bound by any applicable law in the jurisdiction they operate in or from.

    • I don’t know about ‘riles me up’ but it does worry me a lot that all this happening and there is nothing of any great consequence that I, as a UK citizen can do, to help stop this utter shambles. I’ve visited the Stop American Censorship site and I know there are banners to help raise awareness and what not but being realistic, how many US congressmen are likely to happen across my little Itchy Soul before the end of the month? 😉

      That said, I am going to email my local MP to see what, if anything, is being said to the US as a UK reaction to this piece of legislation.

    • And for the purposes of this law, they will see Canada as part of the US.

      As a Canadian, who already has to deal with censorship over access to varying sites and information, to say this makes me irate is a pretty huge understatement.

    • The bit that riles me up most is that it’s not limited to US businesses.

      That’s actually one thing SOPA especially aims to target. Because it’s practically difficult (if not impossible) to go after non-U.S. parties who indeed share or sell copyrighted or counterfeit material without consent, next best thing is to take down their means of doing that.

      My two complaints about SOPA are: a) it’s very broad, and b) there’s little to no accountability if the complaint turns out frivolous.

  2. You seem to be making a flawed assumption in your argument. The flaw is that you seem to believe that the purpose of SOPA was to stop internet piracy. It is not nor was it ever intended to. You have pointed out quite succinctly that it would be completely ineffective and have consequences that undermine its original premise.

    The actual purpose of SOPA is to lay the groundwork for an American version of “The Great Firewall of China” where government controls internet content. This is something it will do quite well.

    • Your interpretation of the unstated longer term goals of this legislation may in fact be correct. But it’s in no way a “flawed” argument to point out the dangers of the bills on their stated face, as Sonia has done here. The fact that SOPA and PIPA can begin a slippery slope to broader censorship just increases the urgency to defeat the proposed legislation.

      • I think the goal is to roll viewers back to the days of terrestrial television when the entertainment companies had sole access to the content (distribution) and the mechanism to monetize (advertising). Not sure the entertainment companies have deeper feelings one way or another beyond their interests.

        The reality is the major entertainment studios are trying to use fingers to plug a leaking dam but it is only a matter of time before we see a rather significant devaluation – in a world of abundance that type of content (traditional media) is worth less if only because there is so much other content available (websites, games, user gen video etc.)

        What I do think will be very interesting is that once the entertainment companies move away from this push I suspect there will be some amazing content coming our way – say what you want but the business of Hollywood is storytelling.

        Thanks for writing about this. I dropped Sens. Kerry and Brown a note.

  3. Interesting. Hollywood is in CA. So is Google, Facebook and Twitter. I here one of my senators is voting on the side of Hollywood, even co-sponsored the bill. HUH? I don’t “do” politics but I am assuming she hates new industry because I wouldn’t oppose the Internet giants. But then again, I guess Hollywood has clout too.

    Thanks for the info.


  4. Thanks for the comprehensive breakdown of SOPA and how it is going to impact us all. We have crazy EU laws to fight as well (cookie law anyone?) in the UK and Europe. I can’t see how this legislation is going to help anyone grow a tech business or run a website. It’s just nuts.

  5. I honestly believe SOPA is just a smoke screen to get PIPA passed. Very similar bills and are equally dangerous. Make sure to let your law makers know that you are against both bills. It will do little good to have SOPA fail and PIPA pass.

  6. I hate politics so it’s not surprising that this is the first I’ve heard of this SOPA bill. The concept behind it makes it sound like a good idea, but it covers up a lot of the damage a bill like this could do. After several years of college I understand that copyright infringement is a growing problem. However, shutting down websites for no proven reason and shutting off financial accounts without proof of wrong doing is going too far.
    I thought our laws were based on the idea that people are innocent until proven guilty, not guilty until they can prove they are innocent?

    • That is indeed the ideal and the concept just might endure if we all raise enough noise to kill this silliness.
      Like it or not I would say that we all have a “dog in this fight” and need to play the political game to achieve the proper end. That being a reasonably unfettered Internet. Cheers! 🙂

      • You mention “enough money” which makes me sad. Legislation shouldn’t be a matter of money. Problem with democracy if you can vote with your money, right?

        • There are a lot of things that shouldn’t be a matter of money, but unfortunately they are. When you have the kinds of mega dollars poured into lobbying and influence that the entertainment industry has, you need mega dollars to counter it. Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft have the mega dollars, they need to step up to fight for the interests of the tech industry.

  7. Although I don’t agree with SOPA, I’m disappointed to see Copyblogger using its copywriting superpowers in this way. Not because I don’t think you should take a political stance, but because some of what’s been said (especially point #1) is massively exaggerated, and I think it looks bad for you guys to be writing sales pitches about blocking SOPA when some of the information isn’t true.

    An important point is that SOPA doesn’t give someone the power to delete your site without telling you, unless you’ve put false information about yourself in the WHOIS records, in which case it’s kind of your fault. Requests for blacklisting have to be decided by a court, and you get the option to take representation with you and fight your side. The claimaint has to prove that you, the site owner, is using the site to illegally distribute copyrighted material for your own profit – clearly not going to happen in the examples you posted.

    I don’t think SOPA is a good way to target piracy, because like you said, the blacklist is easily avoided, but I can’t help feeling that the scaremongering over it is for reasons other than legitimate concern over the internet.

    • Renegade, you might want to do some deeper analysis. Having 5 days notice before your ad network or payment processing is shut down amounts to almost no notice when trying to obtain legal counsel and submit a meaningful response. Worse, the ad networks and processors can simply ignore your defense and shut you down regardless according to the provisions of the bill, and that’s exactly what they’ll do to play it safe.

      Also, read the broad language of the bill (crafted by Hollywood lobbyists with no input from the technology world). A claimant does NOT have “to prove that you, the site owner, is using the site to illegally distribute copyrighted material for your own profit” as you assert. They only have to establish that you allegedly “engage in, enable or facilitate” infringement — which means a commenter or user of the site can link to something that allegedly infringes. And there’s no “profit” motive required.

      This directly undermines the existing “safe harbor” provisions of the DMCA. Effectively, and among many other things, SOPA wants to amend a significant portion of existing law by rushing through another bill without tempering the overly broad language.

      If you believe that Hollywood and Big Media will “play nice” despite being given carte blanche to shoot first and ignore questions later, see what the music industry did for the last decade. They didn’t even have this kind of broad power, and they still bullied everyone from school-age children to the elderly with lawsuits.

      I make my living off intellectual property, so I have no problem with the ability to protect those rights. But this is not the way to do it.

      • No – the 5 days notice is after the court action has been decided. If the court finds you’re breaching SOPA, that’s when you get your 5 days notice that you won’t have any more search engine links.

        The DMCA currently forces search engines and ad providers to remove links to you immediately when a takedown notice is filed – they don’t get safe harbor otherwise. Under SOPA, they aren’t required to do so unless the court decides in the claimant’s favor.

        You’re right that the ‘for profit’ part doesn’t seem to be there (well, it is, but only specifically for streamed content). But there definitely is a requirement for major copyright infringement to be taking place, and I don’t believe that user avatars or the occasional piece of fanart will fall into that category.

        I think site owners should have seen this coming – they resisted the original attempts to target users that uploaded copyright content, they raged when users who downloaded pirated material were fine, they fought against efforts to close filesharing networks down, and they rallied against the idea of ISPs monitoring content…. in the battle against piracy, that only leaves one other option for copyright holders to go after.

        • Okay, are you referring to the “Manager’s Amendent” proposed at the end of December to soften the harshest cut-off provisions? Because the original bill works as I outlined above, and the process is still draconian to most businesses and individuals who publish online.

          All in all, I don’t think Sonia is overstating the dangers here. With companies and sites as large as Google, Facebook, Wikipedia, and Amazon threatening to go dark in protest, I think more people need to understand the stated and hidden implications of what’s trying to be rushed through Congress.

        • Renegade, you seem to be saying that business owners will have the right to embroil themselves in Kafkaesque legal tangles with giant megacorporations like Viacom. I’m not reassured.

          You may not think that the media giants will go after “the occasional piece of fanart,” but based on their history of suing 12-year-olds and people posting baby videos to YouTube, I don’t share that optimism. If they can, I think they will.

          I’m not an anti-copyright person and I’m not actually an internet freedom absolutist, but I think this bill is dangerous and moves the country and the economy in exactly the wrong direction. I haven’t studied the OPEN Act, but it strikes me as being a smarter, better-thought-through way to address the copyright issues.

        • Instead of big companies protecting their copyrights by accusing individuals and taking them to court to prove guilt, you’re suggesting that a computer program should accuse everyone who fits a certain profile, and that those people should then have to go to court to prove innocence.

          Companies whose copyrighted material is valuable enough to steal have enough money to protect that copyright.

          Companies who are small enough to use blogs and social media as their main sources of promotion do not have the resources to protect themselves in court, no matter how spurious the accusation. Any lawyer worth his salt charges a few hundred bucks an hour, and even if the matter is decided in the small business’ favor, that means they’re likely out a few thousand dollars – simply for proving that they should never have been accused in the first place.

          No small business can afford to be accused of copyright infringement because of what someone else posted on their site. Not once, and certainly not more than once. They can’t afford the time away from their business, they can’t afford the day in court. This bill puts the onus on the small business and on the government, instead of on the big business, whose problem copyright infringement is in the first place.

          Big businesses are very fond of saying that the market should dictate business matters, and that the government should not intervene. But when they have to pay to avoid some of the hazards that accompany being a big player in the market, suddenly they want government intervention, and to force individuals to handle their problem for them.

          I don’t believe big businesses should have their copyrights infringed upon. But neither do I believe it is my job to enforce those copyrights. It is the job of the company. Trust me, if my personal material were used without my permission, you can bet that every big business in America would be telling me I have to fight that battle on my own. I can’t see why they shouldn’t have to do the same.

  8. I haven’t studied this bill very much, but I have to applaud an effort to protect the right of copyright holders. I have artist and graphic designer friends who have had their work stolen and it becomes prohibitive, in both time and money, to hold the infringing party accountable. They get a free pass basically.

    Sites like Ebay and Etsy claim to be just a venue, but lots of revenue dollars are created from items sold without a proper licensing agreement. Disney, Nickelodeon, Hello Kitty, Twilight items, Star Wars, etc. are just a few. The person making the item is making money, and the site is too, with no compensation to the artist or copyright holder.

    • I do think it’s important to protect the rights of copyright holders, and I know that artists and designers are getting ripped off. I think SOPA will help them very little, and it will do a lot of damage. (For example, by shutting down Etsy.)

      I don’t think that saving Disney from knockoff Phineas and Ferb items on Ebay (particularly considering we already have antipiracy laws on the books) merits the economic damage SOPA can do.

    • I just made this point above, but you just named five companies who actually employ legal teams full-time to ensure their copyrights are protected.

      If this bill passes, you can bet that your friends, whose work is surely worth equal protection, will still struggle to get their copyright protected. Their complaints will not be heard above the voices of major businesses whose power is already immense. This bill will not help them.

      It will, however, make it possible for Disney to employ a few less lawyers. Which must be nice for Disney.

    • Manoel, see the reply I made above to Blog Tyrant. SOPA is expressly written to go after sites outside the U.S. (although it also covers businesses here in the States).

  9. What frustrates me about these bills is that the people who are writing them haven’t taken the time to research their impact – I get so frustrated by nameless, faceless people making changes that impact my life without a care in the world. I appreciate not allowing people to infringe on someone’s copyright, but the people who will be punished either didn’t do anything or didn’t realize that what they did was wrong.

    When it comes to music and blogging, I’ve been told that (1) I can use music that I purchased on iTunes and (2) I can’t use any music without permission, doesn’t matter if I purchased it or not. So I don’t use music on my videos, because I don’t know what is okay and what isn’t. I’d had to have all my hard work jeopardized, because the rules aren’t clear and are always changing.

    • The people who write these bills are lobbyists and lawyers for the media industry. They want the language to be overly broad and oppressive, because it makes their lives easier. The politicians who put their names on the legislation are beholden to these interests because of campaign contributions and other powerful influence factors.

      It’s the others who vote on the bills who don’t understand the implications. If this passes, I hope each person who votes “yes” understands that people will mobilize to vote them out of office at the first opportunity. Hopefully they’re getting that indication.

  10. I can’t help being bemused by the whole thing. After all, the entertainment industry seem to be doing most of the pushing for it, and yet they are the ones sharing all their content more than individuals via YouTube, Facebook etc., and losing sales because of it. How about, also, going after app stores like the Android Market for allowing apps like “MP3 Download Pro” which is allowing millions of people to download free music. Oh, I suppose being a Google venture, the Android Market is far too big a fish to go after.

  11. Glad to see some people stand on this. If I was in the US I would be calling congress every day. But what I don’t get, is that the bill is going to get a vote in the Senate, then it has to go to the House, no? I am not so savvy on US laws :p

  12. Thanks for explaining this clearly. Called my senators and Harry Reid. (have heard calls get more attention than boilerplate emails)

    • Joe,

      Don’t know if this is still true, but back in the day when I was a Congressional intern, the best thing was to write an individual, personal letter. The boilerplate postcards got glanced at and stacked up (yeah, it’s 10 more of those) and mostly ignored.

      Probably the same with the emails now.

      Write something they don’t have a form reply for.

  13. My biggest problem with SOPA is that it violates the Constitution in at least one way (Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment), and possible others.

    • You shouldn’t. Product names are not copyrighted — that’s trademark. But, I could see a company trying to use SOPA to come after you anyway, citing your use of a product photograph or product copy in order to get around Fair Use and block negative reviews. That’s just one way the overly-broad language of SOPA could be exploited in unintended ways.

  14. In my native Finland, an internet operator (not all, just one) was just forced to ban The Pirate Bay. The ban was executed in very similar fashion as SOPA would be.

    Not surprisingly, the entertainment industry and their watchdogs were behind this too (not a law, rather a ruling from the court).

    And even less surprisingly, literally 2 minutes after the ban was published on news sites there were a number of people leaving instructions in the comment sections how to still access TPB. And of course social media spread these instructions around in a nanosecond.

    End result: a slight annoyance for pirates, but nothing was really accomplished.

    Of course, this is not entirely the same thing as SOPA. But my point is.. That this ban could still be bypassed rather easily. By pirates to pirate sites, not by “normal people” to “normal sites”.

    And as Sonia wrote: some people will go to amazingly far just to get that piece of that hot bitcandy for free.

    I really hope this whole SOPA thing wont go through.

  15. I’m really curious how this will impact the Communications Decency Act Section 230 and if they specifically reference it. CDA 230 gives “Statutory Immunity” to all content providers and hosting providers for content on their sites and networks that they don’t produce. The one exception of materials protected by copyright. A user generated link to copyrighted material would come no where close to meeting that criteria. In fact, this is what section 230 protects. . . you, I, or Google from being penalized for content produced by others.

    In theory, a Google Search Engine Result to copyrighted material (which is a link) means Google gets shut down?

  16. It’s interesting that this unpopular bill is making its way through Congress in an election year. I wonder if the folks who are planning on voting for it realize that they will likely be voted out in November. I think its fair to say that most people who are registered voters are not also employees of the entertainment industry.

    On a related note, I’ve seen photos of many congressmen and women checking in on Facebook while they are sitting in sessions. You have to wonder what they would do if a bill they passed shuts down their favorite site.

  17. This article was so well-written and informative it makes me want to know more about this site and your company.

    I can’t think of a better compliment.


    Mark Meed

  18. Thank you for bringing clarity to a topic that isn’t so easily understood. It is terrible that under SOPA we’re expected to monitor our sites for compliance. I can see a well-monied competitor making a false accusation or planting a mysterious link and using that as grounds to shut someone down.

  19. My favorite part of SOPA. It was introduced by Lamar Smith (R-TX). Mr. Smith’s biggest campaign contributor? The TV/media/movie industry. Single biggest was CC Media Holdings, or Clear Channel’s parent company.

  20. I didn’t know it was this serious. Thanks for this article and I’m really hoping that this doesn’t pass. An internet blackout would be interesting although I hope it doesn’t come to that.

  21. Thanks for spelling this out so clearly – it’d be a pretty scary prospect if SOPA were to pass.

    I’m based in Hong Kong (although my sites are hosted in the US) so I signed the petition.



  22. A similar law was set in Finland a few years ago. The difference was that only sites that linked to child pornography were banned. But the censorship didn’t exactly work. Sites that linked to a site that linked to something questionable were banned and even an international dispute arose because of some mistakenly banned memorial site.

    That happened in Finland when the law only talked about child porn, I can hardly imagine what will happen in the US…

    I guess if the law passes, comment moderating becomes even more tedious than it already is.

    Do you know how exactly can this affect sites (like mine) that are hosted abroad, and created by foreign people?

  23. The web is virtually a free space where one can share and communicate effectively. SOPA isn’t going to benefit bloggers and content marketers in any way, because giving credits and writing contents has never been heavenly sent idea. Whatever you’ve in your head today, I’m sure you got a fraction of it somewhere.

    Come to think of it, Facebook will definitely be impeded as every photo, articles and links are shared from one wall to the other. What about Digg and the almighty Google?

    Let’s put our hands together and vote against SOPA. It’s a ruin on internet and every thing we’ve built as online entrepreneurs. You can’t tell who would be affected. Or can you?

  24. Really great post, thank you!

    Quick question: all of the ways to do our part to help stop this, seem to be for Americans only. Will SOPA affect Canadians and other countries as well?

    Melissa Agnes

  25. And I’ve seen research that demonstrates that in this ‘time of piracy’ the entertainment industries profits have actually continued to rise rather than falling…

    Thanks for the great point and options to do something about it!

  26. So, businesses outside the U.S. will be entirely affected by SOPA but we can’t do anything against it. Not even get in touch with our congressmen because we don’t have a congressman.
    We will be under a law voted by people who doesn’t represent us.

  27. If this doesn’t call for political activism from small business to limit corporate power, I don’t know what will. I encourage anyone reading this to join or publicly support any movement for limiting corporate power. The occupy movement would be a good start – the people who arguably fight debt and financial speculation, which is another side of the same coin. Thanks Sonia for bringing this up.

  28. I think SOPA is the perfect way to stifle innovation at a time when our economy and country needs it the most. There’s a ridiculous amount of opportunity and doors that can be opened with different apps, services and websites that would clearly violate the strangling laws of SOPA.

    Good job, America. You’ve done it again.

  29. I didn’t realize that this would only affect control over DNS. Does that mean that if every American were to point to some DNS servers that are in another country, then we could all effectively avoid this issue altogether?

  30. The idea behind SOPA sounds unreasonable. This bill is a particular threat to New York City, and will greatly affect the up and coming tech industry. Brad Burnham, co-founder of one of New York City’s largest venture capital firms for the tech industry, Union Square Ventures, makes some excellent points in this article I read. Brad is joining Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanan and other tech industry leaders next week to testify against SOPA in front of congress. This article gives a preview of what he will say next week.

  31. S.O.P.A. is not for the benefit of the many but few. If you have good contents, accept the fact that you will be going to be pirated in one way or another. If it is not the case, you will never be popular as you expected. To site a good example. Windows can be easily pirated, and windows dominated the O.S. industry compare to Apple’s O.S. in which hard or very few can pirate or cannot be pirated at all. If one artist become so popular today, it is because it spreads very fast thru pirating process, though not always the case.

  32. It’s amazing how our politicians just don’t get it. I wrote my Congresswoman about the issue. To her credit, she did reply to me, but her response seemed completely out of touch with all of the issues outlined here. But then, they’re all just taking what the big media lobbyists are shoveling to them.

    • Brian, hats off for writing as it is the right thing to do. In terms of politicians not ‘getting it’ when it comes to technology, it isn’t a new world problem.

      “On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], ‘Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?’ I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.” – Charles Babbage

      • I don’t believe the problem is the level of intelligence of politicians, but the money. Get the money out and suddenly things will start to look a bit more reasonable.

  33. These acts just seem stupid and a waste. I can understand wanting to be able to make things easier to ensure that copyrights don’t overly get infringed upon. But I think there are a few other ways (like focusing on developing the IPs that are overly involved with the acts of piracy and being able to shut them down) that we can move around this very thing and be able to have an appropriate way to ensure that things go smoothly and can the real pirates in the process.

  34. A well argued article. I think that the section “I’m not crazy about people who steal content either” is something that needs to be talked about more. As, from what I have observed, the support for this bill tends to be founded in the assumption that pirates need to be forced to stop, instead of motivated to buy.

  35. I’m glad I made the effort to voice my opinion and add the SOPA banners to my sites. Small effort on my part, but my small voice joined with others to up the volume on an important issue.

  36. Another example: Because fanfic doesn’t have explicit licences, and similar sites could be shut down for good and all. That’s right, didn’t you know? Copyright owners are likely to be negatively affected by SOPA/PIPA.

  37. I must also add that one does NOT need the internet to pirate anything the entertainment industry is complaining about. Bootlegging existed long before the internet. Which leads me to believe this is really about something else…

  38. Copyright laws are being used even now to censorship blogs and smaller websites.

    Yesterday I Google’s sent me a email informing that they had removed one of my posts. (Incidentally, my blog is non-profit, fact-based and aimed at providing research information to the public about politics and current events. I have been scrupulous about linking and attributing original sources- far more than most sites.)
    According to the email. following a complaint that the post of in violation of the copyright laws- without giving any details- the post was immediately removed. According the email, a full explanation of the complaint (without the identity of the complainant) could be found at a linked site. That link was not working. I was told that I was perfectly free to delete the alleged copyrighted material (despite the fair use protections that should have applied) and I could re-post. However, since I have no clue where exactly the problems lies, I have no idea what to remove and what to keep. The email also adds that should I chose to repost without removing the material, my entire site could be banned and legal action could be taken. With heavy handed threats like this, is this NOT censorship?

    Another link found on the email. – again appearing to offer a solution- was supposed to offer me to challenge the complaint. However, the information there advised me to contact legal counsel and that, should I chose to file a challenger, my personal contact information would be given to the original complainant!) Most people I know do not have the time nor the financial resources to hire a personal legal team to defend their freedom of speech.
    Had the original accuser contacted me directly and informed me of the offending material, I would certainly have given careful consideration to the request. Photos could be removed. Even quotes (which are, in fact linked to their original sources) could be summarized and paraphrased or shortened. No problem.

    But then, perhaps that’s NOT what this process was all about. Copyright violation was merely the excuse to silence. SOPA and all of the alphabet soup legislation will be one step on the same path, make no mistake.

  39. SOPA will never stand a chance, except maybe picking on the little guys, at times. Sopa is just a fantasy. Companies such as Google (Youtube) will never be put down, not even by SOPA. And what about Facebook ? How are they going to control what people are going to share, if is copyrighted or not ? Will they employ guardians manually scanning the posts on Facebook and Twitter in search for copyrighted content ? No matter how much damage a government might want to do to the Internet, there is a limit. The Internet is a power on its own, and unless they shut down the Internet, there is not much to do about it.

    • “The Internet is a power on its own, and unless they shut down the Internet, there is not much to do about it.”
      What makes you think that shutting down a worldwide information resource which they cannot control isn’t the aim of the US Government?

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