Last week, domain registrar and web hosting company GoDaddy.com was subjected to a large amount of criticism and, later, a boycott of their services due to their support of the highly controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). While the company later changed their opinion on the bill, the damage was still done: More than 70,000 domains have been lost over the last week, and with another boycott set for December 29, even more will be pulled from the service. The fact that GoDaddy even supported SOPA was always strange considering its business is based on the internet, and perhaps it was this that drew the ire of the internet community — Why would a webmaster register a domain name with a company it sees as contributing to the repression of the internet?
It is a testament to public opinion and how quickly one can pass information around the internet that this was even successful — as well as a testament to how controversial SOPA truly is. While still up for debate, SOPA is ultimately a flawed piece of legislation that can be abused and should not be passed.
SOPA was introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and has been backed by the Recording Industry Association of America, the Motion Picture Association of America, as well as companies such as the “Big Four” record labels, ABC, L’Oreal, and Time Warner among others. Taking a quick glance at the legislation makes it easy to see why these companies support it: SOPA’s overall goal is to stop and shut down any site that has copyrighted content on it.
However, and according to critics, SOPA is a bit of a slippery slope in some regards and is cause for concern.
Due to the large amount of piracy sites that are based in other countries — torrent site The Pirate Bay instantly comes to mind — one of SOPA’s stated goals is to prevent "foreign infringing sites" hosting copyrighted material that are “directed” to U.S. internet users by blocking them completely from search results and from receiving any ad revenue. Naturally, because of this, a few issues spring to mind.
One, while the U.S. can currently only legally take down any domestic site holding an abundant amount of copyrighted goods, the fact that this legislation specifically seeks to target sites that are not within its jurisdiction is really tough to swallow. It could be seen as an attempt to establish the U.S. as a sort of police force for the internet, shutting down sites that should not even be within its realm to prosecute.
Secondly, another big problem with SOPA is the fact that search results of the offending site will be blocked. As the Heritage Foundation, a think-tank that has previously supported the MPAA in their lawsuits against pirates, pointed out, it is a bit of a First Amendment issue, since the government has never before imposed any sort of law prohibiting information to be displayed to its citizens.
Additionally, there is also criticism with the way that SOPA is prosecuted. For one thing, while it is mandatory under SOPA that there is an attempt to notify the owner of the offending site of any legal proceedings, it is also legal under SOPA for legal proceedings to take place if the website owner does not respond — namely, going after the domain name or website itself in place of the owner. In this case, there could theoretically be no due process of law, since if the owner of the site does not receive any attempt to notify them of any legal action, the site will still be taken down even without them present.
It is without a doubt that SOPA can lead to some pretty intrusive and potentially abusive changes to the internet if it is passed. While online piracy is still an issue, that’s not to say that SOPA is the best way to combat it and changes must be made to the bill that are not so intrusive and, honestly, downright frightening.
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