A proposed bill in the U.S. congress could grant companies the power to shut down a website – even if it is located outside of the United States.
The Internet, in recent years, has been considered a shining example of freedom and an equalizer for people to broadcast or access content. However, there’s nothing free or equalizing about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a proposed bill in the United States Congress that could dramatically alter the way the web operates.
SOPA is an anti-theft, anti-piracy bill designed to stop the illegal downloading of music, movies, software, and the like. It gives copyright holders extreme power in forcing Internet providers to block access to websites and even stop advertisers or payment processors from supporting “offending” sites. There’s no trial or speedy appeals process in SOPA. If Big Company says that Website.com violates its property, Internet Provider will be forced to block access to that website.
Granting that kind of power is scary on its own, but one aspect that few are discussing is that SOPA will in effect become an international “law” that affects Canadians as well. The bill says that it will include domestic domains and IP addresses as part of the jurisdiction. That means any website with a dot-com, dot-net, or dot-org ending could be shut down under SOPA since those domains are controlled under U.S jurisdiction. And as Michael Geist notes in the Toronto Star, “domestic IP addresses” are not domestic to the U.S. because the U.S has the same IP registry as Canada and several other countries. There’s no special marker to indicate that an address is outside the United States, so the “domestic” label will effectively apply to Canadians as well.
SOPA is a huge potential problem even for people outside of the United States. Imagine a Canadian blogger attends a concert of his favourite band and uploads a short video he recorded onto his website. The band’s record label could claim copyright infringement and demand that the blogger lose his domain, force Microsoft to go through the hassle of removing it from Bing search results, make PayPal stop letting readers donate or subscribe to the blogger’s weekly newsletter, and force Google to seize his AdSense money. The blogger would have no sensible process to prevent this from happening, and reversing the ban after action has already been taken would require him to make an appeal in U.S. courts. Warner Brothers has already shown why copyright holders cannot be entrusted to enforce their claims fairly, so why give the industry even more power over the world?
And it’s not just large companies. A blogger can claim that a competitor stole his material and have that site unfairly shut down. A business could attack a news site, or an angry customer could take down a business’s website. The law is heavy-handed and includes no protection for fair use or reasonable appeals.
It’s troubling to think not only that SOPA strips away so much freedom from the Internet, but also that it takes away the freedom of users outside of the U.S. as well. The Internet is a global phenomenon, but this bill could limit the choices of people who don’t even live where it was proposed. Many agree that piracy is a problem, but is SOPA really the best solution? Read the this PDF showing the proposed legislation and decide for yourself.