The Obama Administration’s statement opposing SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) is a little like Denver Bronco exec John Elway’s pronouncement that Tim Tebow would be the team’s starting quarterback going into training camp. In other words, “We’ll put this thing aside until we can do better.”
Well, no. I don’t think they can do better. Better would be to drop the effort altogether, but that ain’t going to happen. There’s too much at stake for proponents to fold tent, despite this setback.
SOPA, the Senate bill, and its House sister PIPA (Protect IP Act) are serious if misguided attempts to stem Internet piracy, protect U.S. copyrights and, proponents argue, boost American business and protect American jobs. The last point (the jobs) is a key, especially in an election year, but the administration apparently felt that qualified opposition put it on the side of the angels (at least the voting ones). Proponents want to put an end to the free flow on the Internet of pirated content (music, games, video, etc.) , software and the illegal sale of goods (e.g., ads for prescription drugs) from foreign sources.
Supporters of the legislation have backed off the provision that would allow the Justice Department could obtain court orders forcing ISPs to block offending sites. This would have made for some serious mucking with DNS. DNS filtering on the envisioned scale would be impractical and downright dangerous, catching the good with the bad and a lot of gray areas in between. From a security perspective, the pervasive filtering of DNS requests would neuter DNSSEC, which is designed to secure look-up requests. That, at least for now and, hopefully, forever, is off the table.
What remains is an enforcement mechanism allowing companies who feel their copyright is being infringed to obtain court orders forcing online companies, chiefly payment providers, search engines and advertisers to stop commerce with offending sits and delete links to them. The net impact, I believe, would be the stifling of Internet commerce and a chilling effect on the free flow of information. PIPA, in particular, is very broad in its definition of offenders, and SOPA, while it narrows its definition to sites that exist solely to peddle pirated wares, leaves much open to interpretation.
There’s real question that either bill would have the efficacy envisioned by its backers.
Make no mistake, SOPA and PIPA are aimed at very real problems, but the mistake, like so much anti-crime legislation, is seeking a simple, workable solution to a complex and, ultimately, insoluble problem. There’s no easy fix any more than there’s an easy fix to the illegal drug trade – not without unacceptable infringement on our rights (disclaimer: no weepy liberal am I).
The Obama administration is waiting for a version that both sides can accept, which means a political compromise – the lifeblood of the American legislative process. But like most compromises, anti-piracy legislation along these lines will satisfy few and offend many. Think of the compromise that resulted in health care legislation that didn’t approach the level of reform sought by backers and still managed to really, really tick off opponents.
A compromise will do little to thwart Internet piracy of intellectual property, while still having negative impact on commerce and the flow of information. Let SOPA an d PIPA and whatever misshapen children they may spawn just go away.
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