SOPA: Playing with fire
Very recently, the Congress of the United States introduced a bill, called “SOPA” in the House, and “PROTECT-IP” in the Senate. If passed, it would allow large corporate copyright holders to shut down web sites for alleged infringement against their “intellectual property.” Now, this has already been possible for quite some time. All a Sony or a Capitol Records needed to do was call their friendly local branch of the FBI and complain, and the Justice Department would seize the infringing domains, without so much as notifying the site’s owners. In one disparaging example, the defendant was never even allowed to see the charges against him because the entire case was under seal.
Many people have opined that “SOPA” would spell the end of the idea of the internet, and will abrogate historical protections of due process. This really should come as no surprise. The government has been passing increasingly un-Constitutional laws and rulings for some time now. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of the state of Indiana has ruled that there are no legal grounds to resist police entering your home, despite hundreds of years of precedence requiring a warrant as outlined by the 4th Amendment. Most recently, the federal government just passed “NDAA”, which, among it’s provisions, would permit the permanent detention of citizens under allegations of “terrorism,” despite protections under the 6th Amendment.
Despite this unsurprising power-grab by copyright holders, lots of outrage has been displayed over this particular proposal. Reddit led a boycott of registrar Go Daddy for their support, which has caused them to reverse their stance on the bill, proving nothing other than that they can be bought, and for almost nothing, since the number of domains transferred away from them was a drop in their bucket.
Despite these other laws, and the current trend of legislation in general, I’m actually more sanguine about the prospects of SOPA than other commenters. The problem is that the law is structured to use technological means to combat illegal activities, and it will only have jurisdiction in the United States. If internet service providers and domain name registrars in the US try to abolish infringing content, it will just pop up in a different place. The only people it will shut down permanently will be people who are at least trying to run a legitimate business, who have legal residences and identities within our borders. Illegitimate businesses and their illegitimate owners’ identities will just find a new way to setup shop online.
There are lots and lots of places to host content on the web, and only some of them exist within the jurisdiction of the US Congress.
As both a protocol and a software, DNS has a long history of problems. For a long time, people have warned that they could take down the system whenever they wanted. If SOPA passes, I expect the hackers of the world to unite to bypass, obfuscate, overwhelm, and otherwise circumvent whatever method of DNS meddling the government and the service providers can come up with. Programmers have been working for some time on an extension to DNS that would prevent any interference with the system, including blackholing entries by government agencies. SOPA would target such software by making anything designed to bypass the law illegal, but I doubt its effectiveness. The Digital Millenium Copyright Act does this sort of thing as well, and we see how well this has worked. It’s still easy to find software to copy DVD’s, anyway.
I believe the law will prove to be ineffective in short order. Because of this, I’m hopeful that a better law would eventually replace it.
On the other hand, we can’t forget about the internet kill switch that was proposed in the Senate last year, where China was held up as a model of being able to control the flow of information during a time of war. (And here we thought that the internet was the great equalizing factor during the “Arab Summer.”) You can be sure that there are forces within both the corporate lobby pool and within the various military departments of the government that would love nothing more than to add this tool to their box. If this sort of law gets passed, then the government will be able to shut off internet traffic at our major backbone connections, which we already know they surveil, and this is the one we won’t be able to get around.