Feds: All Your WWW Are Belong to Us

Hackers, ACLU, Consumer Rights Groups, Human Rights Groups, Many More All Come Out Against Federal SOPA bill

(11/16 update: Who’s Missing From Today’s SOPA Hearing? A Short List)

All day yesterday, we just kept getting more and more notifications of groups coming out against SOPA. Considering that SOPA-supporters keep trying minimize the complaints about SOPA, or pretend that it’s “just Google” who’s against it, the outpouring of anti-SOPA feelings really paints quite a different picture. Here are just a few of the anti-SOPA statements we’ve seen. First up, perhaps the most interesting of all, the folks at Hacker News — basically home base to tons of techies — have been getting together to send physical letters arguing against SOPA. The idea here is that physical letters are more likely to get attention than email (and this is true for some, but certainly not all, Congressional offices). If you’d like to send a physical letter, the link above makes it easy. And, as we’ve seen with most anti-SOPA letter writing systems, it lets you customize — unlike every single pro-SOPA letter writing system, that only lets you submit existing text.

Next up, we have that bastion of “piracy,” the ACLU. Yeah, that’s a joke. The ACLU is hardly a defender of infringement, but is absolutely in favor of free speech, and quite concerned about the censorship mechanisms in the bill:

By their very nature, laws protecting copyrights constrain free speech and access to information. Unlike other speech restrictions, however, copyright laws may also advance the generation of information and ideas. A robust copyright system encourages free speech by giving speakers incentives to create and disseminate works of authorship. Such laws add to the marketplace of ideas by encouraging the creation of more content through the assurance that content producers will receive the fruits of their labor. But access to information of all kinds — even disfavored information — is a fundamental right that must be protected. Even more to the point, the mere existence of infringing content online does not justify the removal of non-infringing content in the course of attempting to rid the internet of the former. These established principles should not change or be treated differently just because technology has changed.


SOPA, unfortunately, is substantially worse than PROTECT IP. By eliminating the concept of sites ‘dedicated to infringing activity’, SOPA enables law enforcement to target all sites that contain some infringing content — no matter how trivial — and those who ‘facilitate’ infringing content. The potential for impact on non-infringing content is exponentially greater under SOPA than under other versions of this bill. As such, despite our support for the protection of the legitimate copyright interests of online content producers, we cannot support SOPA, and in fact we oppose it in its current form, given its broad sweep and its heavy hand that will land largely upon innocent content producers. We urge Committee members to focus not just on the goal of protecting copyright owners, but also protecting the speech rights of consumers and providers who are reading and producing wholly non-infringing content and to eliminate the collateral damage to such protected content. Only in that way will the Committee truly achieve its goal of protecting authors and allow the legislation to survive constitutional challenge.

The letter goes on to highlight exactly how and where SOPA infringes on the First Amendment. It also notes that passing SOPA would be setting a terrible precedent for the rest of the world.

Next up, there’s a letter from over 40 different human rights groups, noting their concerns with SOPA and how it will create significant problems for human rights around the globe:

Through SOPA, the United States is attempting to dominate a shared global resource. Building a nationwide firewall and creating barriers for international website and service operators makes a powerful statement that the United States is not interested in participating in a global information infrastructure.Instead, the United States would be creating the very barriers that restrict the free flow of information that it has vigorously challenged abroad. By imposing technical changes to the open internet while eroding due process, SOPA introduces a deeply concerning degree of legal uncertainty into the internet economy, particularly for businesses and users internationally. Business cannot be conducted online when international users and businesses do not have faith that their access to payments, domain names, and advertising will be available, raising challenges to economic development and innovation. This is as unacceptable to the international community as it would be if a foreign country were to impose similar measures on the United States.

The provisions in SOPA on DNS filtering in particular will have severe consequences worldwide. In China, DNS filtering contributes to the Great Firewall that prevents citizens from accessing websites or services that have been censored by the Chinese government. By instituting this practice in the United States, SOPA sends an unequivocal message to other nations that it is acceptable to censor speech on the global Internet.

It still amazes me that SOPA’s supporters don’t realize what a big deal this is. Giving foreign nations the “ok” to censor the internet is a ridiculously stupid policy.

Next up on the tour of folks coming out against SOPA, we’ve got a bunch of public interest groups, including the American Library Association, Association of Research Libraries, Human Rights Watch, New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative, TechFreedom, FreedomHouse, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, EFF, Public Knowledge and others.

We do not dispute that there are hubs of online infringement. But the definitions of the sites that would be subject to SOPA’s remedies are so broad that they would encompass far more than those bad actors profiting from infringement. By including all sites that may — even inadvertently — “facilitate” infringement, the bill raises serious concerns about overbreadth. Under section 102 of the bill, a nondomestic startup video-sharing site with thousands of innocent users sharing their own noninfringing videos, but a small minority who use the site to criminally infringe, could find its domain blocked by U.S. DNS operators. Countless non-infringing videos from the likes of aspiring artists, proud parents, citizen journalists, and human rights activists would be unduly swept up by such an actions. Furthermore, overreach resulting from the bill is more likely to impact the operators of smaller websites and services that do not have the legal capacity to fight false claims of infringement.

Relying on an even broader definition of “site dedicated to theft of US property,” section 103 of SOPA creates a private right of action of breathtaking scope. Any rightsholder could cut off the financial lifeblood of services such as search engines, user-generated content platforms, social media, and cloud-based storage unless those services actively monitor and police user activity to the rightsholder’s satisfaction. A mere accusation by any rightsholder would be sufficient to require payment systems and ad networks to terminate doing business with the service…




Bryce Shonka is Liberty Voice's new Editor and also serves as the Deputy Director for Tenth Amendment Center. He is happy to be producing content for a new audience and from a new place (Seattle, WA).

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