In the ongoing quest to end the vile practice of illegally downloading music and movies, Congress is considering new legislation, SOPA, or Stop Online Piracy Act. But according to the EFF, the new law would allow for domain takedowns and eliminate the DMCA safe harbor, radically shifting the level of enforcement possible.
Corynne McSherry at the EFF writes:
As with its Senate-side evil sister, PROTECT-IP, SOPA would require service providers to “disappear” certain websites, endangering Internet security and sending a troubling message to the world: it’s okay to interfere with the Internet, even effectively blacklisting entire domains, as long as you do it in the name of IP enforcement. Of course blacklisting entire domains can mean turning off thousands of underlying websites that may have done nothing wrong. And in what has to be an ironic touch, the very first clause of SOPA states that it shall not be “construed to impose a prior restraint on free speech.” As if that little recitation could prevent the obvious constitutional problem in what the statute actually does.
SOPA would also up the pressure on service providers to police everything that they host or support. With large scale web platforms like YouTube or Tumblr, this is an increasingly massive and expensive task. Google also has to take into account the political implications of takedown notices, for example when it gets requests from law enforcement agencies to remove videos of police brutality.
Creating the ability to blacklist sites has frightening possibilities for future censorship. As Ms. McSherry writes, “The bill also requires that search engines, payment providers (such as credit card companies and PayPal), and advertising services join in the fun in shutting down entire websites. In fact, the bill seems mainly aimed at creating an end-run around the DMCA safe harbors. Instead of complying with the DMCA, a copyright owner may now be able to use these new provisions to effectively shut down a site by cutting off access to its domain name, its search engine hits, its ads, and its other financing even if the safe harbors would apply.”
The great irony of course, is that the DMCA safe harbor hasn’t prevented innovative companies from finding success streaming video and music. In fact studies show that piracy is countered most effectively by providing consumers with a compelling paid alternative, like Spotify or Hulu. And experts believe that the new legislation will actually make the internet less safe and less stable, by interfering at the DNS level.