SOPA and everyday Americans

Alec Macgillivray (Twitter General Counsel, former Google attorney, Berkman Fellow) has a great post explaining how SOPA might impact everyday Americans:

The harm that does to ordinary, non-infringing users is best described via a hypothetical user: Abe. Abe has never even so much as breathed on a company’s copyright but he does many of the things typical of Internet users today. He stores the photos of his children, now three and six years old, online at PickUpShelf* so that he doesn’t have to worry about maintaining backups. He is a teacher and keeps copies of his classes accessible for his students via another service called SunStream that makes streaming audio and video easy. He engages frequently in conversation in several online communities and has developed a hard-won reputation and following on a discussion host called SpeakFree. And, of course, he has a blog called “Abe’s Truths” that is hosted on a site called NewLeaflet. He has never infringed on any copyright and each of the entities charged with enforcing SOPA know that he hasn’t.

And yet, none of that matters. Under SOPA, every single one of the services that Abe uses can be obliterated from his view without him having any remedy. Abe may wake up one morning and not be able to access any of his photos of his children. Neither he, nor his students, would be able to access any of his lectures. His trove of smart online discussions would likewise evaporate and he wouldn’t even be able to complain about it on his blog. And, in every case, he has absolutely no power to try to regain access. That may sound far-fetched but under SOPA, all that needs to happen for this scenario to come true is for the Attorney General to decide that some part of PickUpShelf, SunStream, SpeakFree and NewLeaflet would be copyright infringement in the US. If a court agrees, and with no guarantee of an adversarial proceeding that seems very likely, the entire site is “disappeared” from the US internet. When that happens Abe has NO remedy. None. No way of getting the photos of his kids other than leaving the United States for a country that doesn’t have overly broad censorship laws.

Overbroad Censorship & Users


    1. That seems to be the core of one of the main current arguments – nobody seems to know.  Some people are arguing that a court order would be required, others that a shut-down could happen without one although one would probably be needed to sustain it  – but AIUI with no apparent redress if the court decides that it was unjustified.

  1. This is what happens when you have a populace that is so ignorant of what its government is doing, the “representatives” can basically do whatever they want without fear of losing the next election. This is a complex subject and I’m sorry to say that anything that can’t be reduced to a soundbite has little chance of resonating with the short attention span theater crowd that the US populace has become. Hopefully this would fail in the courts, but in the era of corporate personhood, who knows? Call your congressman.

  2. In some instance, it is not that the populace is ignorant… but, can not vote out a representative because they have no one running against them in the election.  In the case of the Texas Representative sponsoring and railroading the SOPA bill, he has no one running against him (at least this was the case the last I looked) and he is located in a gerrymandered GOP exclusive electoral district. 
         As a result, the odds are massively stacked against any minority party (including the Democratic Party) to obtain funding and votes.  So much so, many who are apposed to certain candidates do not even vote since there are no opposing candidates.  I guess you could say… democratic choice defined by the vote doesn’t exist in many congressional districts throughout the US.  …Especially in Republican dominated states such as Texas.   As a result, you see legislation such as SOPA and PIPA.

  3. SOPA is what is actually keeping me from starting my own website at this point, I’m afraid to piss someone off and get jailed for no reason. Photography tends to have a bit of a risk with it after all.. but since it got delayed a bit I think I’ll reconsider.

    1. It got delayed, yes.  They will be passing, sorry, I mean discussing it again in 5 days time.  During their holiday break.  But if you start now, maybe your website will make it to the kind of level where you can merely be intimidated into removing content, instead of being closed down entirely.

      Those assholes in congress wouldn’t work during the holidays if a comet was going to hit Washington DC next week, but they sure are willing to work hard for this bill.

      1. Its already been bought and paid for by the relevant corporate interests, so your congressional members have to work a little overtime to ensure they continue to get paid

        1. Don’t suppose there is a chance that the documents for SOPA will be destroyed in a freak “accident” do you? 

          1. I was more thinking of the War of 1812 and how the White House got burned by “accident.” But I expect a copy of SOPA would survive.

            Note: I am not advocating domestic terrorism against US congress. 

    2. I’m in a very similar boat. Same as awaiting to see if the Euro implodes before buying a house. Lots of things seem to be out of my control and I don’t like it.

      Just out of interest what are the actual technical methods they’re planning on using for this? I assume there are already methods of bypassing them out there?

      Its scary to think people that think this is a good idea are in charge of anything let alone a whole country.

  4. Well, this is the Tea Party congress. What do people expect? These are the same people who believe that if you cut taxes you increase gov revenues, global warming is a hoax and Obama a socialist. I fully expect one of them to set up a throne on the beach and pass a law ordering the tides to not come in.

    1. Good thing Obama’s in office and ready to veto it.  Oh, wait…. Will you idiots EVER learn that there is just ONE political party in Washington?

      SOPA cannot become law without the support of democrats. SOPA cannot become law without the signature of Obama. SOPA isn’t about piracy at all. SOPA is about getting control of free speech. Republicans want to stop your free speech about topics A, B, and C. Democrats want to stop your free speech about topics X, Y, and Z. Somewhere in the middle there is an overlap, but that really doesn’t matter.

      They are playing the classic divide and conquer game and you, like lemmings, will follow them off the cliff.

      1. Cliffs? There’s going to be cliffs? Why wasn’t I told!? 
        I want my cliff now! NOW! I deserve it! Whatever this cliff thing is, I want to run toward it!

    2. Also, you’re being unfair to Cnut, who was perfectly aware that the tides would not obey him. Unlike congress.

    3. Naw that would be too hard, they will just move the “tide” posts so it looks like it never comes in. Much like Obama and his “veto” of bills he never veto’ed.

  5. Why this bill is so bad is that with the DMCA, the copyright owner can file a claim against the material posted on a website and the site will be obligated to take it down, leaving the site itself intact. No harm, no foul.
    What SOPA will do is allow the copyright owner to file a claim against the site itself and they must file a counter notice to stop an injunction to take down the entire site.
    Now imagine the number of DMCA notices that YouTube and Google deal with on a daily basis. They have a very efficient and somewhat automated way of handling those claims. 
    Imagine what would happen if they were constantly fighting SOPA copyright claims to try and keep their site online. Imagine the administrative nightmare that would ensue! 
    Why would anybody want to start a user generated site when having to deal with that?

  6. Well, it still has to pass both houses *and* needs to be signed by Obama. I don’t think that’s gonna happen in the current form. Besides, it only takes one person to filibuster, and it’s gone. For once I think filibustering might be a good idea.

  7. You know, once SOPA passes and it gets used just *one* time, I’m willing to bet that a lot of internet services will close regardless of whether SOPA is used against them.

    Either they will perceive the risk as too great — or their sponsors will.

  8. And this will not dawn on the people in power because:

    1. they never read things on screen. Their aides print it out for them if it is deemed important, or just summarized by same if not.

    2. anything they deem important is stored on government-secured servers, rather than cloud services.

  9. I imagine a scenario where the government would like a website to be shut down like say… Facebook, because it can be used as an organizational tool for protests and demonstrations or even (gasp) revolution. So a video that infringes on UMG’s copyright gets posted by an operative under an account created specifically for this purpose (and made to look like any regular facebook user), and voila! No more Facebook. Or YouTube, or take your pick of whatever website the government would like gone. I don’t believe for one second that this measure is strictly about copyright. This is a move to shut down communications when the government deems it necessary and in their best interests to do so. All that’s needed is a picture or video or mp3 that is owned by a complicit third party to shut down an entire forum that millions use. The piracy angle is just that… an angle. This is the internet kill switch.

  10. I have seen many people complaining about the “evil entertainment industry” and how they’ve paid the government officials to pass this bill for them.

    If you dislike something so much, use your wallet to make your vote. The only reason the entertainment industry is such a juggernaut is because WE keep shelling out all sorts of money to keep it going.

    Stop and think.

    Also, it’s going to get a lot worse before the majority gets uncomfortable enough to act for any sort of changes.

  11. I knew this was coming when Yahoo! moved their photo service to a different location.  Once my photos were ported over, I noticed that the new site owned the copyright to photos that I had taken, developed and then scanned into my computer prior to uploading to the internet.   Does this mean that they own the rights to the physical photos that I scanned?  Will I then be sued for using my originals however I see fit?  I can accept companies taking reasonable measures to protect their intellectual property, but cases like this are using copyright to steal.

    1. 9 times out of 10, when a company puts something like that in their ToS, it doesn’t give them exclusive ownership of your content, but rather states that you are giving them a limited license to use your content. Usually it’s to cover themselves if your photos turn up in an ad or promotional piece, or even in search results on the site itself.

      It’s similar to McDonalds putting a warning on their coffee cups that the contents may me hot. They’re trying not to get sued by you.

  12. I don’t have a problem with the fact that our representatives can be paid fat stacks of cash to push for insane legislation. I just wish that the bidding was open and public, so that we could bid too.

    *Let* the money win. I don’t care. But at least give the rest of us a chance to compete.

    This kind of bidding war might even make a nice alternative to raising taxes :P

    1. You have 100,000 dollars just sitting around?  Oh, and that’s per senator, per year.  Anyone who starts talking about voting with their dollar or opening up corruption to everyone has no idea how much money the plutocrats have to throw at problems.   Or they’re severely delusional about how little they have.

  13. So the only way for Abe to see his photos, blog, etc. again is to hop on any international flight out of the country, THEN he can access them?  Is that right?!

    Sounds like an entrepreneurial opportunity for some Canadian to screen-scrape content that has been “disappeared” from US internet onto flash drives for Abe and others like him if he can’t afford the airfare.  Great.  (and I am being sarcastic.)

  14. Sorry, I’m a little confused.  Doesn’t the bill only target sites that are dedicated to illegal activity and NOT sites that host user content that violates copyright?  In that case, wouldn’t Abe be safe?

    1. As seems to be the case with most of the laws coming through, the wording is vague.  Who gets to decide if a website provides ‘substantial support to piracy’? The people doing the accusing.

    2. No, it isn’t limited to only sites dedicated to illegal activity, as those are already illegal and taken down when discovered (if possible). This bill covers any site that users have the ability to upload content to, i.e. Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter…the list goes on and on.

      People keep saying that the corporations behind this bill want to shut these sites down to censor competition, but I don’t think that’s the case. For a site to protect itself they would have to monitor all content it’s users upload, essentially approving any update the user makes before it can go live. What the corporations really would like is to be given access to these sites so they can do the moderation themselves. I think this would be a very likely outcome too, because each site would be too afraid of  missing something and getting shut down.

  15. @Kevvo: It’s copyright law. First, not even the copyright lawyers can make it work the way it’s supposed to–it’s like a plate of spaghetti instead of a ball of yarn. Second, missing so much as a period or misspelling a name is “improper citation” and the post can therefore qualify as illegal content. With this legislation, any site with posts containing improperly cited or uncited material can be “turned off”. (Wikipedia. My blog quotes from the founding fathers tagged “Who said this?” etc.)

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