Today RockMelt is joining Facebook, Google, Twitter, Mozilla, and every other company against censorship on the Internet by voicing our opposition to PIPA and SOPA.
If you value freedom of expression on the Internet, please take a few seconds to tell Congress to vote no on PIPA and SOPA.
In case you haven’t heard, PIPA (PROTECT Intellectual Property Act) and SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) are bills working their way through the US Senate and House of Representatives, respectively. They both propose giving the government the power to censor web sites in much the same way that China, North Korea, and Iran censor web sites today.
What? How can this be, you ask. This is America, land of free speech and due process, which are both kind of fundamental to the whole American dream thing. And yet, it’s true. If PIPA/SOPA pass in anything resembling their current form, it will have a chilling effect on Internet free speech. Here’s why:
1. The bills hold websites accountable for content posted by their users
The bills essentially do away with the safe harbor provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the current US law protecting copyrighted material on the Internet. Under the DMCA safe harbor, sites like YouTube and Facebook are not responsible for the content posted by their users as long as they take down copyrighted material when they are made aware of it. As it stands today, if someone posts on YouTube a bootleg copy of Rob Schneider’s 1999 opus “Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo,” YouTube cannot be put out of business as long as it has a reasonable process for taking down the infringing content. Passing PIPA and SOPA will change this.
2. PIPA and SOPA would let the government compel other companies to stop doing business with or linking to offending sites
The bills would allow the government to order ISPs to shut down web sites like YouTube and Facebook that it finds have violated copyright laws by distributing or allowing their users to distribute protected content illegally. For sites outside the US jurisdiction, the bills allow the government to force DNS providers to stop resolving offending domain names, force search providers to stop returning links to offending sites, and force advertisers to sever relationships with offending businesses.
3. The bills fail to consider the true costs of compliance
Specifically, the bills fail to consider: the technical feasibility of compliance, the burden that compliance would place on companies, the potential damage done by errant takedown orders, and the impact that these acts might have on the underpinnings of the Internet itself. For example, if offending sites are removed from search engines, the DNS, and other directories, it would create “black holes” in the Internet.
No one is arguing in favor of copyright infringement. Such actions are clearly illegal and wrong. But the DMCA and other copyright laws provide ample protection and remedies designed to compensate copyright holders and bring copyright violators to justice. Chilling free speech on the Internet, imposing undue economic and technical burdens on non-infringing companies, inviting international tit-for-tat web site blocking, and involving the technologies and systems underlying everyone’s Internet experience in a legal tug-of-war to eradicate copyright infringement is a Bad Idea.
Please send a letter to Congress to ask them to vote no on PIPA and SOPA.