Cyberlaw, Google / Search Engines, Technology, Twittering

New Piracy Bill Could Lead to National Censorship Nightmare

As we mentioned in yesterday’s Non-Sequiturs, congressional hearings for the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act began yesterday. People are really not happy about the bill.

Google’s CEO called SOPA, as the bill is known for short, “draconian.”

Time’s Techland blog ran the headline this morning, “SOPA Won’t Stop Online Piracy, Would Censor Everyone Else.”

What is going on here, and why is everyone freaking out? Let’s find out….

Techland sums it up:

There’s a disturbing bill making the rounds on Capitol Hill right now called the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. It’s purportedly designed to thwart music and movie piracy by empowering copyright holders to isolate and shut down websites or online services found with infringing content. SOPA is the House version of the bill, introduced by Representative Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), and there’s another in the Senate called the Protect IP Act, introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Hearings on SOPA began Wednesday, and the chances it’ll pass are excellent, because it’s backed by powerful business lobbies and has bipartisan majority support in both the House and Senate. If it does pass, the only thing that could shut it down would be a veto by President Obama.

In short, SOPA, if passed, would allow the U.S. government to blacklist any website found to have infringing material, inhibiting access to said sites using DNS filtering techniques similar to those employed by China and Iran. What’s “infringing material”? Anything deemed in violation of copyright, say a few posts by users in a web forum or on a social network—even links sent in email. What’s more, a website or Internet communication medium’s owners would be held liable for any infringing content, and the government would be empowered to cut off revenue to those sites’ owners and force search engines to block them, too.

That’s a long block quote, so here are the highlights:

– Bipartisan support (I didn’t know we even did that anymore).
– “Excellent” chance of passing.
– Similar website restrictions to China and Iran.


Some of the heaviest hitters in Silicon Valley — Google, Facebook, Yahoo, eBay and Twitter — sent a letter to Congress that was published in Wednesday’s New York Times as an ad: “We are concerned that these measures pose a serious risk to our industry’s continued track record of innovation and job creation, as well as to our nation’s cybersecurity.”

“The solutions are draconian,” said Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, the day before. “There’s a bill that would require [Internet service providers] to remove URLs from the Web, which is also known as censorship last time I checked.”

No one seems to like anything about the bill, except ostensibly its intent to stop online piracy. But consensus among the tech crowd is that the bill overreaches for too insignificant an effect.

Also, it’s worth noting that SOPA has major corporate support. It is backed by powerful monsters crowd favorites like the MPAA and the RIAA. Yahoo! dropped its membership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because the organization supports the bill.

The tech world sometimes gets overexcited about “scary” new bills that are inevitably and quickly killed. This seems to be different. The explosion of mainstream opposition is actually impressive and surprising. My Twitter feed started overflowing with this yesterday:

RT @[██████] ██████████████████████████████
██████ #SOPA

Reputable personalities and organizations have been circulating petitions to stop the bill from passing. David Post of the Volokh Conspiracy jumped into the fray as well, declaring yesterday “American Censorship Day.”

Hopefully this SOPA storm will blow over and Congress will realize they are doing it wrong. We’ll just have to wait and see.

SOPA Won’t Stop Online Piracy, Would Censor Everyone Else [Techland]

Christopher Danzig is a writer in Oakland, California. He covers legal technology and the West Coast for Above the Law. Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisdanzig or email him at You can read more of his work at

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