Laws like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT-IP Act (PIPA), on the surface, make a lot of sense. Piracy is a problem. Theft of intellectual property is indeed a problem. I and my customers have been victims of it ourselves. SOPA and PIPA try to solve these problems, but (a) do so in a circumventable way, and (b) punish legitimate businesses in the process. It’s bad legislation, and it needs to be stopped.
The most onerous provisions in these acts concern takedown orders. Under SOPA and PIPA, entire sites — and indeed, entire chunks of the internet — can be blacked out based on a complaint by pretty much anyone. The bills bypass due process by requiring hosting and internet service providers to cut off access to the site in question. Defendant sites can protest the complaint, but must do so by mail before five days is up. Hosting providers and ISP must act, by law, five days after the complaint is filed.
Complaints can be as simple as “this image was posted on this site without permission” or “this sentence was plagiarized from my site.” SOPA and PIPA take the current enforcement model (provided by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA) and turn it on its head: While DMCA notices require sites hosting stolen content to take that content down, it does not punish the site if the site acts quickly enough. SOPA and PIPA, however, take an enforcement-first approach — tell network providers to shut the site off, and hold the complainant harmless (even if the complaint was wrongly filed with harmful intent).
What does this mean for companies like Honest Code? As we mentioned, about two thirds of our business comes from building WordPress sites for individuals, organizations and business across the country. WordPress is designed to facilitate free and open communication — through blog posts, comments, trackbacks, and other ways to make it easy to post and share news and information. Putting the heavy legal responsibility to vet every word and image posted to a site is enough to cause these organizations and individuals to reconsider their participation on the Internet. “If I post this image, and our site gets taken down, was it worth it?” I’d reckon the answer will often be no.
That conceivably means that two thirds of our business could evaporate overnight.
Moreover, Honest Code operates a site called peg.gd, where people from all over the world create simple, single-serving web pages for whatever they need. If laws like SOPA and PIPA become law, I will likely shut peg.gd down. I’m just starting a family: I can’t risk having my websites taken offline because of what an anonymous someone posts on what happens to be my server.
We sent letters by mail to our house representative, Congressman Brian Bilbray, and our senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. We received no reply. I asked Congressman Bilbray again via Twitter, and again was met with silence.
Congressman Bilbray, Senator Boxer, and Senator Feinstein, combined, have received almost $1.5 million in industry contributions that are undoubtedly being used as leverage to persuade them to vote in support of SOPA and PIPA.
If you haven’t already, and you’re able, please send your representatives and senators in congress a message. Let them know that while they might be concerned about thousands of jobs in the entertainment industry — an industry that is spending the millions of dollars pushing this legislation through — millions of jobs are at risk because of what these bills will do to fundamentally change the Internet. Please tell them that the Internet needs to remain free and open, and future legislation shouldn’t be used to censor anyone’s website.
- Find out where your members of congress stand
- A good summary of what’s wrong with SOPA
- Stop American Censorship
- Google: End Piracy, Not Liberty
- More opponents of SOPA and PIPA
- Fight for the Future’s SOPA Strike