Ill-Defined Bills Put Enforcement Burden on Large, Small Websites

By Fahmida Y. Rashid  |  Posted 2012-01-18 Print this article Print

If passed, SOPA and PIPA won't focus on the copyrighted content itself, but require the site operator to remove mentions of the entire domain. SOPA and PIPA focus "on the censorship of links" to entire domains, Jason Harvey, a member of Reddit's technical staff, wrote on the link-sharing site's blog.

This has serious implications for sites like Reddit that rely on user-contributed content. It also has serious implications for social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, as they would have to monitor every post and comment to ensure posts never link to an offending domain, even if that particular URL does not contain infringing content, Harvey said. Even companies that don't rely on user-generated content, but allow any kind of user interaction, such as commenting, would have to comply, if faced with the court order.

Small sites won't have sufficient resources to keep up with the onerous task of policing their sites and run the risk of being shut down for violating the court order. The bills would also result in many foreign sites being blacklisted, which means they won't show up in major search engines, Wikipedia noted.

Harvey also noted that the language in the bills used to define who the law would impact was vague and poorly defined. SOPA defines the "foreign Internet site" as any site not using a domestic domain suffix, such as .com, .org and .us and "domestic Internet site" refers to sites that use one of those domain suffixes or is hosted within the United States.

Reddit, hosted in Virginia, runs the risk of having its "" domain being defined as a foreign Internet site. Popular link-shortener service,, based in New York City, is another, according to Harvey. SOPA "naively ignores this complexity, and simply labels a site 'foreign' or 'domestic' based solely on the domain name," Harvey said.

Since the bills don't actually address the content on the sites, SOPA and PIPA in their current forms won't stop online piracy, especially if the site relies on foreign advertising partners. There are also plenty of proxy sites online, many developed with the support of the United States government to help dissenters in other countries circumvent local censorship laws, which could be used to access these blocked sites.

Shortly after the White House issued a letter noting that it would not support any anti-piracy legislation that would affect freedom of speech or affect core Internet architecture, there were reports that SOPA had stalled in the House or been shelved. That is not the case, as Smith issued a statement Jan. 17 stating the committee will resume its markup of the bill in February.

"I am committed to continuing to work with my colleagues in the House and Senate to send a bipartisan bill to the White House that saves American jobs and protects intellectual property," Smith said. 


Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel