News Analysis: The proposed Stop Online Piracy Act currently being considered by the House Judiciary Committee would effectively criminalize many innocent activities, create massive security problems and eliminate due process in an attempt to placate the big donors of the recording and video industries.
As long as you don't examine the details, the Stop Online Piracy Act (HR 3261) might sound like a good idea. Many people agree that using illegal copies of movies or music is a bad idea.
That's the reason we have copyright laws, and that's the reason you see that FBI warning about illegal reproduction of copyrighted works at the beginning of a DVD. But the SOPA bill now under consideration by the House Judiciary Committee seems hell-bent on stopping piracy by stopping the Internet. After all, if there's no way to use the Internet, then such piracy would be impossible.
But, of course, it's never as simple as that. What the SOPA bill does is attempt to force a number of actions on private companies as a way to protect other private companies. For example, the government would be able to force anyone with a Domain Name System (DNS) server to stop providing name services to alleged piracy sites. These orders would not require proof, and the requests could originate from anyone. So under the proposed act, it's conceivable that Apple could decide that the Android Marketplace is a pirate site, and force it to be removed from DNS servers and shut down.
And that's the problem with the current bill. It features a complete lack of understanding of how the Internet works, a total lack of understanding of the technology behind the Internet, and a disregard of some basic constitutional protections. It looks like the Republican-led committee got a big wet kiss from the recording industry and has become so smitten it believes everything the industry says, disregarding other opinions.
This is evidenced by the fact that five of the six witnesses testifying before the committee Nov. 16 hearing were backers of the bill. Only one company opposing the bill, Google, was invited. The nonpartisan public interest group, OpenCongress, called the hearings a "sham," and a "love fest."
"The hearing was very disappointing," Tech Freedom Senior Fellow Larry Downes told eWEEK. "The witness list was not balanced. Five out of six of the witnesses strongly support the bill," Downes explained. "The bill will regulate a wide range of actors in the ecosystem, and none were represented in the hearing."
The only witness opposing the SOPA bill was Google Policy Counsel Katherine Oyama. Oyama said that SOPA would undermine existing copyright laws, endanger innocent U.S. businesses and create security risks to Critical U.S. Infrastructure by preventing the use of the Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC).
Ironically, the live Webcast of the hearing was fraught with so many problems that it was essentially useless, prompting the Electronic Frontier Foundation to Tweet, "If Congress can't be trusted to set up a simple Webcast, how can we trust them to regulate the Internet?" The EFF described the problem in a blog entry during the hearing.
Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazine's Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.
He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.