Tuesday, 24 January 2012

SOPA/PIPA: What Lies Beneath

You would think that after all the furore last week the powers that be would have sat back, cried into their coffees and called it a day. No such luck; they're working away behind the scenes to salvage the SOPA/PIPA bills or bring them back in another form. The war for online freedom isn't over; it's just begun.

Mintz Levin reports at jdsupra.com,

Following this week’s Internet blackout by service providers and online resources opposed to the pending Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act, Congressional leader have announced a postponement on future action on the legislation. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid delayed a vote on PIPA scheduled for Tuesday. In the House, Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith responded by announcing that the Committee would not consider SOPA until a compromise on the legislation was reached.

Coach and horses

The act, which would have driven a coach and horses through the First and Eighth Amendments by allowing the Feds to shut down websites accused of copyright infringement without due process, was opposed by the vast majority of internet users, who flooded the US governments' websites with emails protesting the bill last Wednesday. However, the people behind it have vowed to continue the fight against internet piracy and copyright infringement.

Senator Lamar Smith, one of the sponsors of the bill, said in a statement,

"I have heard from the critics and I take seriously their concerns regarding proposed legislation to address the problem of online piracy. It is clear that we need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products."

Lead sponsor Patrick Leahy added,

"The day will come when the senators who forced this move will look back and realize they made a knee-jerk reaction to a monumental problem.

"Somewhere in China today, in Russia today, and in many other countries that do not respect American intellectual property, criminals who do nothing but peddle in counterfeit products and stolen American content are smugly watching how the United States Senate decided it was not even worth debating how to stop the overseas criminals from draining our economy."

What happens next?

There's talk of opening a dialogue between the web hosting and service providers and the copyright holders' representatives. The problem of piracy and copyright infringement isn't going to go away, so laws are needed that close the loopholes that keep the piracy going. The new OPEN act has been touted as a possible solution and the internet giants Twitter, Facebook, Google and Linked In support it.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California) introduced H.R. 3782, the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday, the same day as an Internet protest when a number of high-profile websites such as Wikipedia went dark. Issa says the new bill delivers stronger intellectual property rights for American artists and innovators while protecting the openness of the Internet. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) has introduced the OPEN Act in the U.S. Senate.

However, the MPAA opposes it, saying,

"...this draft legislation fails to provide an effective way to target foreign rogue websites and goes easy on online piracy and counterfeiting. By changing the venue from our federal courts to the U.S. International Trade Commission, it places copyright holders at a disadvantage and allows companies profiting from online piracy to advocate for foreign rogue websites against rightful American copyright holders. It even allows notification to some of these companies if they want to help advocate for rogue websites."

Their preferred law? ACTA, a more draconian law that's been in negotiation for a few years, an international treaty that, according to Wikipedia, would be very dangerous indeed for civil rights and online freedom.

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is a proposed plurilateral agreement for the purpose of establishing international standards on intellectual property rights enforcement.[1] It would establish an international legal framework for countries to join voluntarily,[2] and would create a governing body outside international institutions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) or the United Nations.[1][3] Negotiating countries have described it as a response "to the increase in global trade of counterfeit goods and pirated copyright protected works."[2] The scope of ACTA includes counterfeit goods, generic medicines and copyright infringement on the Internet.[4] Groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) oppose ACTA,[5] stating that civil society groups and developing countries were excluded from discussion during ACTA's development in an example of policy laundering.[6]

Concerns about this include the secrecy that shrouded it before it was leaked, the fact that it would put us all under surveillance by ISP providers, it would patents on the food we eat and enforce them, driving up food prices and collapsing the economies of developing countries, and that it would knock out SourceForge and other sites I rely on because

ACTA would... require that existing ISPs no longer host free software that can access copyrighted media; this would substantially affect many sites that offer free software or host software projects such as SourceForge... ACTA will make it more difficult and expensive to distribute free software via file sharing and P2P technologies like BitTorrent, which are currently used to distribute large amounts of free software... ACTA will make it harder for users of free operating systems to play non-free media because DRM protected media would not be legally playable with free software.

In other words, kiss your privacy and opensource programs goodbye. In the middle of a recession when I haven't got much work in, the last thing I need is to have to pay for everything I use. It's a shill for the greedy tech organisations that would charge us for the air we breathe if they could. It's so pernicious even the usually sedate Forbes is alarmed by it.

What can you do about it?

Join the Stop SOPA group on Google +

Visit the Stop ACTA website and get involved

Visit the EFF website and get involved

Sign the petition.

Protest works! Fight the unfair censorship laws!

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