Don’t Sign The SOPA/PIPA Petitions

The Con

Wikipedia is unable to be accessed today and Google has a black bar across its banner.  The reason – which I know you’ve heard by now – is two bills before the current session of Congress.  These bills called SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) were proposed to stop foreign firms from pirating copyrighted US materials.


Media companies are always looking for new ways to fight piracy. They’ve tried suing individual users, getting Internet service providers to take action against subscribers, and working with the U.S. government to shut down domains based in the United States. But none of those actions can stop overseas websites such as The Pirate Bay and MegaUpload from infringing copyrights, or prevent Internet users from accessing those sites.

Enter SOPA, in the U.S. House of Representatives, and PIPA, in the U.S. Senate. Both bills are aimed at foreign websites that infringe copyrighted material. The bills are commonly associated with media piracy, but may also apply to counterfeit consumer goods and medication.

The fight that began with Metallica and Naptser over a decade ago has finally hit the mainstream.  No one cares when a bunch of long hairs in tight trousers scream about losing a few bucks but let the porn industry go under and there will be hell to pay.  Where do you think a self respecting Congressman is going to go when he can’t get some in an airport bathroom?  If you can’t be seen at the Anvil, then you’ll have to make due with xHamster.

But once again in true Washington style, the House and Senate overreacted to the problem and proposed a bill that would have driven up the rates of every First Amendment lawyer in the country.


Originally, both bills provided two methods for fighting copyright infringement on foreign websites. In one method, the U.S. Department of Justice could seek court orders requiring Internet service providers to block the domain names of infringing sites. For example, Comcast could prevent its customers from accessing, although the underlying IP address would still be reachable. This ISP-blocking provision was a major concern among Internet security experts, and both SOPA and PIPA have dropped it.

The other tool would allow rights holders to seek court orders requiring payment providers, advertisers, and search engines to stop doing business with an infringing site. In other words, rights holders would be able to request that funding be cut off from an infringing site, and that search links to that site be removed. The site in question would have five days to appeal any action taken.

Although the House and Senate bills are similar, SOPA is the more extreme of the two. It defines a “foreign infringing site” as any site that is “committing or facilitating” copyright infringement, whereas PIPA is limited to sites with “no significant use other than” copyright infringement. More details on SOPA and PIPA are available through the Library of Congress website.

The outrage from those in the creative community has also been predictable.  Screams of fascism, Republican/Democratic take over of the Internet are rampant and getting louder as the texts of the bill are read and debated.  Passing this information around the Internet via Facebook and Twitter has been extremely effective.  Various sponsors in the House and Senate have asked to have their names off the bills.

Kudos to those who spread the word and once showed how a determined group of US citizens can change the way business is done in Washington.  However, Facebook and Twitter posts weren’t the only methods available to garner the attention of the thieves in DC – phone calls, letters, e-mails and petitions were also sent to elected representatives.  And the petitions weren’t the paper variety some cute girl flirted you into signing at the entrance to Washington Square Park in 1988.  No, these were online petitions circulated on social networking sites and ‘signed’ on smart phones and laptops the world over.  The seemingly innocent act of attaching ones name to a cause via petition is a surefire way to get solidly placed in the center of the G’s crosshairs.

Back in the day, the FBI used to track anyone who signed any petition they felt was ‘edgy.’  However, back then they had to do all the legwork necessary in order to catch those they felt were “known radicals.”  Today, all they need to do is trace the IP address of the signer and that will take the G right to the computer or smart phone in question.

Of course this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be a practicing member of our democracy.  But you shouldn’t be surprised if someone knocks on your door and asks you to come down the road to a neat little place for ‘political re-education’ either.

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