Brad Burnham of Union Square Ventures and Alexis Ohanian of Reddit, Breadpig, Hipmunk and Google+ are headed to Washington to testify as witnesses for an “Oversight Hearing on DNS and Search Engine Blocking” on Jan. 18 called by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a fierce opponent of the Stop Online Piracy Act and a cosponsor of the similar but completely different Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act. Of SOPA, he’s said: “Butchering the internet is not a way forward for America.”
SOPA allows for Hollywood, record labels and other intellectual property holders to cut off U.S. users’ access to the servers hosting the bad content. That happens by basically removing the DNS entry for the infringing site. The law also applies to sites that link to infringing sites, which would give search engines a primary spot on the collateral damage list.
Opponents have pinpointed DNS and search engine blocking as failure points of the legislation. We know SOPA is bad because it counteracts the protection from user-submitted content made sacred by the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, a law whose protections are credited for much of the innovation on the web. But DNS—the protocol and registry that translates natural language domain names into IP addresses—is a little more technical, so Betabeat asked New York tech godfather Anil Dash who helped Betabeat out with an explanation.
“So you type dashes.com<http://dashes.com> in your browser,” Mr. Dash Gchatted. “It tells your computer to do a DNS lookup that says “oh, that’s 18.104.22.168″ and then it goes and gets the page or pictures. But, here’s the thing. If you cut off a site at DNS, first of all, a user can just put in the IP address and probably still get to the site. But even if that’s not the case, it can break all kinds of other parts of the web.”
In addition, law allows for the takedown of sites just for linking to infringing content, he said, meaning a search engine result page that surfaces pirated copies of Beyonce’s album could be as liable as a site like nodata.tv, which exclusively curates and links to pirated music.