Jan 16, 2012

What does the Presidents stance against DNS-blocking mean for SOPA's chance of becoming law?

As indicated by my earlier question on this topic, I have deep concerns about the potential effects of SOPA. President Obama came out against SOPA in its current form over the weekend, in particular expressing opposition to DNS blocking provisions of the proposed bill. While not coming out and threatening a veto, that was the vibe I got from the statement. Apparently the level of opposition was strong enough to infuriate Rupert Murdoch, who supports SOPA and accused Obama of doing the bidding of "Silicon Valley paymasters" such as "piracy leader...Google who streams movies free." So you have the President on one hand, and the head of a powerful media empire on the other in this debate.

I'm happy to see opposition does not depend on party lines; Darrel Issa (R-CA), best known as the "Step away from the car!" voice of Viper alarms, has gone to the plate to oppose SOPA as well. I'm starting to breathe a little easier about the chances of the kill-the-internet-as-we-know-it bill becoming law. Am I just being optimistic, or has the growing opposition put the brakes on this wretched bill in its current form?

The key part of what you said is "in its current form." Obama's opposition might help stop the current version, but what comes next? It seems like there are already legislators that are moving ahead with SOPA version 2.0 and that can't be good.

This article covers some of the remaining problems with SOPA:

SOPA revisions leave many concerns in place

"Public interest groups and technology companies working on the bill have highlighted key problems still remaining, even after DNS blocking is removed. They include:

The bills still appear to include search blocking, which has been widely criticized as a new and expansive form of government censorship of the internet. It is noteworthy that the DMCA already covers search engines, meaning there is an existing means to remove links to copyright infringing material on foreign sites.

The bill still has a private right of action which may embolden content providers to sue ad networks and payment processors through the kind of aggressive and far reaching test litigation that has made the RIAA a bad word to so many. It has been noted that the private right of action may allow content providers to bypass DMCA procedures and safe harbors.
The bill still contains murky definitions that threaten U.S. sites and sites that are not dedicated to copyright infringement. For example, ccTLDs of domestic sites are not excluded from the definition of “foreign site,” a “site dedicated to infringement” can be so labeled if it “facilitates or enables” infringement, rather itself violating any law, even if it is in compliance with DMCA safe harbors.

Finally, there continues to be a strong incentive for private censorship in the bill. By providing complete immunity for voluntary acts of censorship, the bill may create pressure for search engines, website hosts and others to blacklist content without any due process of law. And, as reported by Sherwyn Siy at Public Knowledge, the language of the bill is so broad as to appear to extend immunity event for censorship performed for anti-competitive reasons (e.g. a cable company’s refusal to allow access to legal competing suppliers of video content)."

It is too soon to count this as a win, but when the guy with veto power comes out against the worst provisions of a bill, chances for it becoming law go way down.  That said, the President has been quite reluctant to actually use that veto power.  As for Rupert Murdoch coming out in support of the bill and blasting Obama for his rather mild opposition, well, for me that's a pretty strong indication that the President is on the right side of the issue.  Murdoch's online track record is pretty horrible, from dropping online readership of the Times of London by ~90% to his purchase and destruction on MySpace.  


The steady stream of opposition from both big corporations like Google as well as normal people like us has had a real impact on this issue.  I don't know how many members of the public get fired up in support of this bill (very few, I suspect), but I do know plenty of opponents who have called their congressman to register their opposition (including me, and I you have as well).  There is one thing people must remember, however.  There is a companion bill in the Senate, PIPA.  We should keep that in mind and call our Senators to express opposition to that as well.  


I do think that the DNS blocking provision is dead, and I count that as a battle won.  The war isn't over just yet though, and I'm glad for all the sites that will go black on January 18 to raise awareness of this issue in the coming days.    

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