Wednesday, January 25, 2012

More on (Moron?) SOPA

Funny thing about SOPA is that it keep my awake at night.  I actually took the time to read the bill to understand it better and it seems that around 2:45 AM my brain makes random connections as to why the Stop Online Piracy Act might pose threats to people who don't event know about it.

Today a colleague wrote a post also outlining some additional thoughts entitled "10 Reasons Lots of Websites Violate SOPA and Don’t Know It".  Now according to several news sources, SOPA has been shelved so no one is actualy violating it as it is not in effect.  Nevertheless, it is worth thinking about from a perspective of false positives and what could happen.  On the blog I found the following arguments.  I've reposted a few to share here but urge interested parties to go to the source to leave any comments or read the rest.  These are five of the ten reasons.

"1. Vague Language – Though House supporters have claimed that SOPA is designed to protect the intellectual property of Americans from foreign profiteers that illegally distribute content in exchange for advertising and membership revenue, the vague wording of the bill makes it difficult to understand exactly what constitutes a violation and certainly doesn’t offer immunity to inadvertently-offending American sites."

My take on this is that there is certainly ambiguity and penalties in the forms of takedown notices.  The innocent ones here who might be the most liable are the ad servers themselves. If the bill was put into effect as written, it is not clear how some of the enforcement mechanisms might be implemented.  My stance is that most of the illegal copyright and trademark infringement has actionable paths under existing laws, many of which are not enforced.  If existing laws are not enforced, who amongst us believes a new, untested bill will stop this.  Not me.

2. User-Submitted Content – If a site allows any sort of user-submitted content to be posted as part of their business model, they could very easily find themselves in violation of the Stop Online Piracy Act. Under the current language of the proposed law, the owner of the site that hosts the content, the user that posts a link to the content and the website that allows the user to submit that link could all potentially be charged with violating the bill.

Our gut feeling on this is true, but once again, this is illegal under existing laws.  Why do we need a new law to stop someone from selling fake merchandise over eBay?  Use existing laws.

3. The “Friend-of-a-Friend” Effect – Do you remember when you were a kid, and the friend of a friend did something that got you all in trouble? Maybe you weren’t directly involved, and maybe you didn’t even like that person very much, but your mom still said that you were “guilty by association.” Under SOPA, the same principal applies: even if a link to legitimate and legal content housed on another site is shared, the site that posts the link could be punished if the hosting site is found to house illegal content as well.

Not quite correct.  According to the SOPA act, as written today, a takedown notice would be issued.  This would still have the effect of creating a lot of work for webmasters.  Even the odds that the Technoracle blogroll points at a site that might contain an ad that is subject to SOPA laws is very high.

4. The Comments Section – One of the quickest ways to lose faith in humanity and the education system is to take a look at the comments section of a YouTube video or comedy article; comments are almost universally inflammatory and poorly spelled, but that’s still legal. Should SOPA pass and one trolling user posts copyrighted material in the comments section, the site would be in violation and could face blacklisting, blocking of revenue and DNS blocking.

This is not how I interpreted the SOPA Act but in such cases  take down notices would be issued.  What I am curious about is how the government intends to patrol all these comments.  Even as we contemplate this today, I would argue our NTi ( an index of collective content production vs content consumption) is reaching the point where most people create more than they consume.  Bots using RSS feeds and aggregators add to this menace.  To enforce SOPA, one would have to patrol the web with a virtual army of police to scour all such comments.

It is more likely that peer to peer interactions are going to be more effective against such comments.  I've deleted some spam from this site on numerous occasions.  Google also once in a while let's me know if there is a comment up here violating the Blogger terms (which I take down).  I would not voluntarily censor anything for SOPA if it was not directly violating someone's copyright or trademark against the true copyright owners will.

There are six more comments on the original article - a good read at


  1. I recommend checking out this video on SOPA/PIPA from Khan Academy:

  2. We need more analysis of bills in this manner. Whether people agree with all your points or not, reading through the bills rather than trusting someone else to do it for us is crucial in understanding what's going on in government, particularly when it comes to SOPA or PIPA that could have a significant impact on all of us.

    Killing SOPA and PIPA: Did "The People" (or You?) Really Make a Difference?


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