Here’s a simplified outline of the problems, as I understand it.
The bill seeks to let the government create a naughty list. If you are on the naughty list, or if you link to content hosted by someone on the naughty list, then your whole website can be shut down. The government will block the site by closing the series of tubes that make up the internet.
There are two big problems with this.
1. The first is that the list is not created by standard court proceedings.
2. The second is that the machinery to enforce the naughty list totally screws up internet addressing and security, and is not workable.
Getting on the naughty list
In order to get someone placed on the naughty list, you do not have to sue the accused. You don’t have to provide proof that you own the content that is being infringed. And the accused does not have conventional rights to challenge the blacklisting: to present an argument that they also might have rights to the content.
This is, as I understand it, injunctive relief. This is normally used for some kind of emergency action by the court. The bill creates a perpetual state of emergency where lots of action would be be taken outside of conventional legal channels.
Any site that allows users to post content is at risk of being shut down, so the naughty list can expand like crazy.
And don’t hold out much hope that photographers and other independent creators can get nbc.com or capitorecords.com or universalpictures.com put on the naughty list simply because they violate *your* copyright. This is a hammer built for the interests of big media.
While #1 is a big problem, the bigger problem is the mechanism that the bill proposes to enforce the naughty list. In order to block a website, you need to make sure that no request to see that website (take me to www.Amazon.com) actually goes to Amazon.com.
In order to accomplish the blocking, you need to break a fundamental part of the DNS system (the thing that makes sure that you are at the real Amazon.com). This is not really possible, since there are so darn many tubes.
The official DNS list is sent to all ISPs worldwide, so that requests for websites can be routed properly. SOPA and PIPA want the US government to be able to edit the list used in the US, removing sites that are deemed – outside of a traditional court – to be in violation.This breaks the integrity of the DNS system in a fundamental way.
At best, we could be like China, and block access to naughty sites for web surfers that are located within US borders. But circumventing that is pretty trivial. Millions of foreign portals will spring up that will let you access the real DNS list that the rest of the world uses. Once you go through that portal, you are in a world where all websites could be easily spoofed, since you are outside of the (formerly) standard DNS system.
Once you break the universality of the DNS list, you totally screw up security for nearly everyone. And policing that is a never-ending game of whack-a-mole.
But aren’t you in favor of copyright?
I say all of the above in the context of an independent creator – photographer, author, videographer. Yes, I am infringed every day by companies and individuals and websites in all kinds of ways, including offering free copies of my book to paying members. And I believe that this is a big problem for people like me. I don’t know what the real solution is, but I can definitely see what the solution is not.
Hopefully this thing is dead. Congress is learning that you don’t want to get the internets mad at you.