The Stop Online Information Act (SOPA) which was announced by Texas Republican Lamar Smith in October has come under a great deal of fire in recent weeks. Sites from Wikipedia and Google to Reddit and Craigslist have argued that they may not have existed today had they been launched in a SOPA dominates world. Other opponents of the bill argue that Lamar Smith, the mastermind behind the bill didn’t take more than half a second when drafting the bill to realize how easily it could be manipulated by larger corporations in their never ending attempt to shut down bloggers, small scale news sites and any other web properties that cast their organizations in a negative light.
The entire premise of the bill came into question towards the end of last week when Lamar Smith announced that the Domain Name System blocking portion of the bill would be removed for fear that it would be abused.
If you’re unfamiliar with that portion of the bill it was a key component of SOPA which gave full authority to the courts in blocking foreign websites accused of copyright infringement.
In the meantime SOPA is now left with one major portion in place, the ability for the U.S. government to track funds and cut-off payment options to illegal sites overseas. To punish those sites where it would hurt the most the bill would also require Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines to remove all links to foreign sites that infringe on copyright laws.
The problem with blocking simple links to a website by order of the court is the fact that such linking and spreading of information is protected under freedom of speech laws. As Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales told CNN on Tuesday the knowledge database could be fined or shut down simply for pointing an encyclopedic link back to the Pirate Bay if the site is found to be in violation of SOPA.
In the meantime the massive amount of man hours that would be required to police social networks such as Facebook and Twitter and police knowledge databases such as the non-ad space sponsored Wikipedia could put many small, medium and even some large scale websites out of business.
As Smith recently stated:
“Congress cannot stand by and do nothing while some of America’s most profitable and productive industries are under attack.”
Yet it’s Smith that still doesn’t get how much support has been gained around killing SOPA. When asked about Reddit, Wikipedia and other sites going dark today in protest of the bill he wrote:
“It’s a vocal minority. Because they’re strident doesn’t mean they’re either legitimate or large in number. One, they need to read the language. Show me the language. There’s nothing they can point to that does what they say it does do. I think their fears are unfounded.”
For the record Reddit receives more than 2 billion pageviews per month while Wikipedia users number in the hundreds of millions.
When speaking about his draft of SOPA Lamar Smith claims that not a single internet professional can point to any wording in the bill that would jeopardize the bill. As DigitalTrends has pointed out that’s simply not true, in fact 83 of the internet’s “pioneers’ have said the bill will have far reaching negative impacts. According to the group SOPA “will risk fragmenting the Internet’s global domain name system (DNS) and have other capricious technical consequences”
Among those programmers are TCP/IP co-designer Vint Cerf, HTTP/1.1 protocol standards editor Jim Gettys and Leonard Klienrock, one of the very creators of ARPANET. In other words the very guys who invested the internet and it’s standards are scared of the bills far reaching consequences.
Lamar Smith can’t even get the support of former Department of Homeland Security representative, the very agency he now serves. According to former agency Assistant Secretary Stewart Baker SOPA will “do great damage to Internet security, mainly by putting obstacles in the way of DNSSEC, a protocol designed to limit certain kinds of Internet crime,” among other repercussions.
Even Lamar Smith’s home state of Texas has turned their backs on the representative. Company’s operating in the state include Rackspace, Facebook and eBay, all company’s that oppose SOPA based on it’s ability to censor the internet and cause unfair pressures in an already crowded web space. Business owners in Texas that rely on the web contend that Mr. Smith’s bill would cause greater economic damage, particularly to Texas’ growing technology sector. Other businesses and representatives in the state argue that online pirates would simply find new ways to evade the law as they have since the advent of the internet. Rackspace, one of the company’s rallying against Lamar Smith has offices located in Texas and with more than a quarter of their business partners located overseas it’s easy to see why they would fight against Smith and his SOPA initiative.
There are laws in effect that already protect the MPAA and RIAA, for example the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. While that bill may not be as effective in combating foreign infringing websites it was least gives website owners the benefit of the doubt and time to respond to accusations, something SOPA fails to accomplish on even the most basic level.