Home

News

Features

Sports

Perspectives

Police Blotter


About Us

Stater Archives

School of Communication

The Cleveland Stater YouTube Channel Visit us at:

The Cleveland Stater Facebook Page The Cleveland Stater Twitter The Cleveland Stater YouTube Channel


 

SOPA/PIPA: Lawmakers debate web regulation

By Roman Verzub

February 2, 2012

“The Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck,” said the late Republican Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, who was charged in 2006 with heading the committee that regulated the Internet. Now, interested parties are attempting to make sure the web indeed isn’t “something that you just dump something on.” That is, if that something was their copyrighted content.

Introduced into the House of Representatives by Texas Republican Sen. Lamar Smith, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its Senate equivalent the Protect IPAct, (PIPA) introduced by Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy would have created massive and sweeping regulations and ways for government to shut down sites if someone on those sites posts content that is accused of violating copyrights.

Though the bills had been re-written, and certain points have been scaled down and scaled back, but the basic premise has remained – sites aren’t policing their users well enough and they need to be punished.

The bills, which have since been shelved, come after several other ideas used in other countries, including a proposed “three-strikes” law implemented in France that would mandate cutting off someone’s Internet access if their IP address is seen to be downloading unauthorized content three times.

Because the IP address cannot be, experts say, a reliable way to identify someone (because IPs change, and strangers could be using a wireless router with no password or crack the password if need be) the plan never took off in the US.

Existing laws of combating unauthorized distribution of copyrighted content, which the industry calls “piracy” include the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) – an implementation of an international treaty that allows content holders to send web domains notices that their copyrighed content being distributed in an unauthorized fashion on their site. They’re required to prove that they own the content, however and that it is indeed being used in an unauthorized fashion – something which hasn’t always been easy or convenient for the industry to do, they claim. On the other hand, filing a false DMCA notification is legally considered “perjury”.

Furthermore, the DMCA’s so-called “safe harbor” permissions protect sites whose uses upload infringing content if the site doesn’t know about it and takes it down.
SOPA and PIPA would only have required an accusation of infringement to bring down an entire website (not just the content in question).

“[These bills] have a really bad implication for civil liberties,” said Drew Retherford, a senior majoring in history.

According to Retherford, the power to regulate and block websites could give future or current administrations the technical ability to limit free speech online.

“I like that the Internet has become a place where everyone in the world can say whatever they like,” he said, “Whether I disagree with them or not, I want them to be able to say it.”

Freshman Andrew Stead, studying urban planning, agrees.
“In theory [stopping copyright infringement] is a good idea, but it’s horrendously worded and terribly done.”

The main issues he has with the bills is “that you have copyright companies trying to take away people’s rights.”

As a frequent Internet user, Stead says websites he frequents – all perfectly legal – would be in danger of being blocked if a single person in the online community posts something unauthorized.

The method described for blocking the bills was controversial as well.

The ban works by messing with something called the Domain Name System (DNS), which translates a domain name to a static IP on the Internet, according to HowStuffWorks.com.

For example, when you visit http://www.csuohio.edu this gets translated to the IP address of the computer server hosting the content, in this case 137.148.49.106. The stability of Internet security requires this translation to happen properly.

But SOPA and PIPA’s proposal to block websites was to break that crucial rule – typing in a website name would not direct to the correct IP of the server that stores the website, thus rendering the domain name inaccessible.

Moreover, one can simply type the IP address directly in into their web browser and access the content anyway.

Senators discussing the legislation meanwhile notably prefaced statements “I am not a nerd, but...” and only Internet-savvy company Google was allowed to have representation during most hearings.

“The majority of people who were for it,” said mechanical engineering major Zak Kudrna, “had absolutely no knowledge of how the Internet worked.”

Kudrna opposed the bills because they would “effectively ruin the [security of] the Internet.”

“With the bills, even legitimate sites could be taken down,” he said, “one person posts something that could be copyright and the site doesn’t get it down fast enough, the company that holds that copyright could go straight to the government and say ‘Take down this site, they haven’t taken down the copyright fast enough.’”

This could effect his own life online, in websites discussing video games. One person’s post of unauthorized content from a copyrighted game can mean the whole site goes black.

“For all of that to be gone would, it would be like telling an athlete he can never play his sport again,” he said.

In a move former Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd, now the head of the Motion Picture Association of America (a group that lobbied for the bills) called an “abuse of power”.

Many websites who felt they could be potentially affected by the bills chose Jan. 18th as the day to protest.

Sites like Wikipedia, Google, Mozilla (developers of the Firefox web browser), Craigslist, and Tumblr either blacked out their websites completely, as was the case for Wikipedia, or censoring their logos as was the case for Google, whose petition got over 4.5 million signatures.

Recently, the Justice Department went after Megaupload.com, alleging copyright infringement. The website now shows a banner proclaiming it had been seized for “conspiracy to commit copyright infringement.”

The founder of what was once one of the 13-most-visited websites faces legal prosecution.

Megaupload marketed itself for two purposes – the first for unregistered users who did not have to pay, to transfer files too big to email. Files are deleted shortly thereafter.

Those who paid were able to use the site as a “cyber locker” to back up their hard drive.

Both legal, and both, the government argues, havens for infringement.

Megaupload took down content once they became aware of it, but its closure may have been unrelated.

“Megaupload was shut down because the founders of the site had a track list of accusations aside from piracy,” Kudrna said, “[including] money laundering.”

Recently, Megaupload uploaded “The Megaupload Mega Song” to YouTube, in which artists like will.i.am, Kanye West, and Diddy proclaim their love of the site, while their labels say it fosters “piracy” which hurts them.