/ Technology

Why US anti-piracy acts could block your favourite site

Wikipedia, Reddit, BoingBoing, Greenpeace – what do they have in common? They’re all blacking out in protest of two anti-piracy acts being debated in the US. But what has this got to do with us in the UK?

Hopefully nothing at all, but there is a big chance that the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) could affect the internet worldwide, and not just in the United States.

These acts seek to tackle copyright infringement online, and would allow the US Department of Justice and copyright owners to seek court orders to take down infringing websites.

In protest, online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, social news site Reddit, blog BoingBoing and activists Greenpeace have all closed down their sites for the day. Google, Facebook, Twitter, eBay and consumer organisations also oppose the acts.

SOPA and PIPA in brief

If a company believes a website is infringing its copyright, either by specifically enabling this (such as an illegal file sharing website) or simply facilitating it (such as an un-moderated forum), this company could request court orders for ISPs to block access to that site.

Search engines would also be asked to remove that site from search results, and payment services and advertisers would be forbidden from doing business with it.

In theory, the whole of YouTube could be blocked if one user-submitted video is accused of infringing copyright. This is why SOPA has been criticised for enforcing internet censorship, rather than simply removing infringing content.

Moreover, companies won’t have to prove infringement in court to block a site, they will simply have to file notice of an infringement – i.e. a site doesn’t have to be convicted of piracy, it only has to be accused.

Why should I care about US anti-piracy acts?

So could this affect us in the UK? Quite possibly, yes. The act specifically talks about blocking access to foreign websites that are outside the reach of US law, such as The Pirate Bay which is hosted in Sweden. Then again, we could be shielded – when SOPA refers to blocking access to a site, it means stopping US citizens from accessing it.

However, it’s difficult to see how this would work in practice. Websites that are blacklisted in the US could still struggle to support themselves on a worldwide scale, resulting in them being forced to close down – this would be especially true of start-ups.

Plus, it would be hard for sites to keep their actions US specific. SOPA would require user-generated websites like Wikipedia to police all links to make sure they don’t host infringing content (otherwise Wikipedia itself could be in danger of being blacklisted). It’s likely that Wikipedia would do this across its site, rather than creating a specific censored US version.

In short, when a country as powerful as the US passes a law affecting the worldwide web, it’s going to impact services for everyone.

On a more fundamental level, if SOPA or PIPA is passed, it would set a precedent for other countries to tackle online piracy in the same way. I don’t want to see an internet where websites are blocked willy nilly, especially when this is unlikely to deter the people who are specifically out to pirate content.

In my opinion, SOPA and PIPA are like fighting fire with the Great Flood, drowning the internet as we know it, while the offending pirates sail to safety.

Dave Cryer says:
18 January 2012

I think we should all be worried. Of course copyright holders should be able to protect their own material, but if SOPA are given the power to block whole domains it could be abused and be censorship of the internet. I made the video below… if anyone would like to watch, share and comment.

SOPA Blackout Video… why we should be worried http://youtu.be/o27XCL9JsKI (please RT)

Anon the mouse says:
18 January 2012

For the Us it is an important step in deciding wether it is the elected government or big business that makes the law in the “land of the free”. A full list of participants is available here http://sopastrike.com/

As an example, lets say that your website got hacked and they installed a dodgy site hidden site, SOPA would allow the US to block your domain, even though you had done nothing wrong, apart from security.

Bill Burnell AKA Way says:
18 January 2012

As the operator of a web based video gaming and technology magazine (http://www.aIbatrossrevue.com) approve of attempts to prevent IP theft in all forms; however, thes two pieces of sloppily written legilation could well mean the end for sites such as mine.

Taking it to extremes if I post the name (just the name mind) of a site that promotes piracy as part of a legitimate article about piracy IP owners could petition for me to be shut down, no hearing, no appeals. Or reading into just what is allowed under SOPA/PIPA if I had written and published articles about Sony’s hacking problems last year they could have applied for the DNS blocking clause due to me using their IP in the article.

At best I use services like WordPress for my CMS and YouTube to host video content but under SOPA/PIPA these services would no longer be alloweed to exist, nor would Google+ or Twitter or Facebook all of which I use for promotion of my magazine.

So in comes SOPA/PIPA goodbye to web magazines. The pornographers will love it as that’s all there will be left in the Internet.

Profile photo of RonnieB

I would also be concerned about the extremely draconian approach of the US to software infringement. Would we see people from the UK being extradited to the US for possibly accidental infringement of copyright? The recent case of a Hallam University student losing his appeal to be extradited to the US for a possible 5 year jail term is a case in point. His crime was to create a web site with some links to illegal sites – he didn’t actually host any pirated material. While I don’t condone piracy, this seems an unduly harsh punishment for someone effectively only doing what could be done with Google. The UK police had no interest in charging him but our government seems happy to allow him to be extradited under agreements that were brought in to prevent terrorism!!

Tom Cullen says:
19 January 2012

Perhaps Wikipedia could extend its blackout for a month and take its website off all search addresses. It would make finding out things that much quicker and no one would be misled by the huge number of inaccuracies that they publish. Not bothered about Greenpeace – they have lost their way and do not seem to be able to decide what their stance is with regard to the positive affect the recession has on reducing greenhouse gases.

Pete Bradwell says:
19 January 2012

This is a good write-up on some US bills with clear implications and lessons for the UK. There are not only implications for UK internet users, but lessons for UK policy makers.

We’ve posted on this, about why Open Rights Group is concerned about these laws over on our site and why we joined in the black-out protest: http://bit.ly/ytmBSy



Brian Davison says:
19 January 2012

The idea that punitive action can be taken against any site that is ACCUSED is appalling! Surely the most braindead senator must realise it will be abused. Takings down this month? accuse all your rivals of hosting infringing material and you will have a monopoly! (Unless they got in first).

Insane – no other word for it. Bye bye “land of the free”, bye bye justice, bye bye internet, back to pen and paper and pony express.

(Unless the pony express is accused of carrying infringing material of course)

Profile photo of Patrick Steen

Well it looks like the blackouts and petitions worked. SOPA and PIPA votes have both been put aside, with senators admitting that they need to look at the issue more carefully.

I’m sure this won’t be the end of it, and some kind of anti-piracy law will return in their place, but it’s good to see that these two Acts, which were dangerously worded, shouldn’t see the light of day. http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2012/01/internet-wins-sopa-and-pipa-both-shelved.ars