WTF is happening with SOPA now?

If you followed my tweets from the markup session for SOPA in the House of Representatives, you know how frustrating it was to watch: you had these lawmakers blithely dismissing the security concerns of the likes of Vint Cerf, saying things like, "I'm no technology nerd, but I don't believe it." In other words: "I'm a perfect ignoramus, but I find it convenient to disregard the world's foremost experts." Another congressman from Florida kept saying things like "No one can explain to me how this bill harms political debate or academic freedom."

The markup hearing ended early yesterday, surprising many who concluded that the early adjournment meant that SOPA was off the table until Congress reconvened in 2012. But committee chair Lamar Smith quietly announced that there would be a special session on the 21st of December (when the press and opponents of the bill are likely to be distracted by the impending holiday) to finish up the bill's markup.

I think I've got the perfect metaphor for the hearings: there's a scene in the Disneyland Jungle Boat Cruise where you pass the "gorilla camp," in which a tribe of gorillas have taken over an explorer's camp, upending the jeep and taking deadly possession of the firearms. One gorilla is staring up the barrel of a rifle, while another is firing a pistol into a collection of floating explosive barrels in the river.

That image is what I keep returning to as I listen to committee members blithely dismiss the experts who warn that this bill will undermine civic debate, academic freedom, and the security of the Internet. Of course, these are the same committee members who refused to hear testimony from the bill's opponents.

If anyone out there has a good, high-resolution photo of the gorilla camp (especially the gorilla who's staring quizzically down the rifle barrel), I'd be much obliged if you could upload it somewhere under a Creative Commons Attribution license, so that we could use it as a meme during Wednesday's upcoming markup session.

SOPA Markup Runs Out Of Time; Likely Delayed Until 2012 [Update: Or Not...]


      1. Come to Scotland. It’s nice apart from the weather.

        I’m waiting for Scotland to remove that growth attached to the southern border.

        1. Well, might do that in a few years.  Then in a few decades we might be converting most of our terrible weather into lucrative electricity and drinking water, and move the border south a bit. Muhahahahaaa!

          Wait, no. Maybe we want Cumbria back, but probably not Newcastle.

          1. Based on David Cameron’s recent performance, I have a vision of Alba and Cymru in 2020 as prosperous EU states while London keeps wringing its hands and complaining about the bloody foreigners. Scotland’s doing quite well through this whole recession mess. I wish that Wales could catch up.

    1. I’m not far behind you.  We just need to hang on long enough for SpaceX to start regular launches and we can blow this pop stand for the moon…

  1. We always get the best laws for Christmas:  After months of hearings, amendments, and debates the Federal Reserve Act passed Congress on a Sunday two days before Christmas when most of Congress was on vacation.

    1. That sooooo won’t work.  The important thing politically is to say what everyone else is saying when they’re saying it.  You will never be forgiven (except maybe by history, decades later) for being right when all of the important people were wrong.

      1. Example: the Iraq War.

        Having been against it beforehand makes one unserious. Having gone over the Powell presentation, noticed the claims didn’t add up, and the supposed new construction wasn’t in the photos, makes one unserious.

  2. If you ever need a reason to know why your individual vote counts, this is it. There must be enough of us, of reasonable and knowledgeable mind, to band together and vote out these reprehensible excuses for legislators. 2012 is a bell-weather year, now; the many and varied elections are our opportunity to re-take control of our government and our nation, if we have the courage and the conviction. We have to remove a Congress riddled with ideas from the past and smug self-importance, and fill it with new ideas and fresh approaches. We must do this. If we back down, if we shrug our shoulders, we will find ourselves in a nation and a world we do not recognize, and it will be too late to do anything about it except burn it to the ground.

    1. Well, I’m in a tough spot here.  My Senator, Sherrod Brown,  is a good progressive legislator 90% of the time; but he is a co-sponsor on this thing.  He’s up for reelection and if I vote him out I’ll get a Republican who will do worse damage with civil rights and will go against everything I believe in.  My other Senator is Rob Portman who will do whatever big business and big media want him to do. I can’t vote against him for four more years.

      I hate having to weigh my options, but I may have to eat the fact that I have to weigh the entirety of Senator Brown’s votes against this bill that I hate.  And yes I have called, I have emailed. I have talked to both my Senators, my Representative and Harry Reid.  I have done all that I can on this bill.  Now all I can do is hope that they actually listen.

          1. Finding another person is way harder than you’re making it out to be. Politics is a fickle, dreadful soul-crushing game and most decent people want no part of it. Candidates don’t just fall out of the sky.

    2. This has nothing to do with voting. You’d just vote out one person who has been purchased by corporate intersts to vote in another. If you want change, don’t bother voting – help to start an actual revolution. You should have learned by this point that voting the 2 different parties in or out does nothing. Neither has the interests of you or me or even of this country in mind – this bill they are ramming through is one of many examples of this.

      1. I’m not asking anyone to vote in parties; I want Americans to vote in people. Capable people. Reasonable people. Knowledgeable people. Political parties poison our nation with their power-seeking. The revolution starts before the ballot box, with people who care about the nation, want to do their part to nurture it and make it grow, and are willing to represent our bests interests, and ends at the ballot box, when we vote those people into office.

      2. Voting should be another tool we employ mercilessly while instigating changes our own way. Don’t let up in any possible way, if you can make a slight difference along the way with a simple ballot, make it!

  3. Sorry to sound so pessimistic, but I’m reading this latest twist as “Let’s wait a bit until everyone’s attention is elsewhere, then quietly ram the bill through Congress while nobody’s watching.”
    Whatever happened to Listening To Experts? Seems that these days in politics, it’s all about being seen to represent the citizenry, even if the price paid is making dumb decisions — because it’s all about the politician being The Decider. And, with egos and corporate backers of such gigantic proportions, their “reasoning” goes like this: “I don’t understand it, therefore it must be wrong!”…for values of “it”, in this instance, equalling internet security, free speech, maybe that little thing they call the First Amendment.

    1. “Whatever happened to Listening To Experts?”

      for every bill, you can find hundreds of “experts” who will talk about the bill in any way you want; they’re also called “lobbyists”.  there are also professionally-organized groups of perpetually-outraged citizens who are ready and eager to scream about every bill that comes up.

      if you are a legislator, odds are good there’s a list of a dozen ‘experts’ waiting to talk to you about every matter on your agenda. it probably gets old. you probably get a little cynical about the opinions of experts.

      1. I agree with your analysis. furthermore, the consequences of this course of action are horrifying for Democracy. To extrapolate from the position you describe, I think an increasing number of politicians (particularly since 9/11) have been banking on that cynicism. It’s their ticket to bypass experts, and at the same time to get vast numbers of voters disengage and become disenfranchised. That is utterly repugnant.

  4. So wait, are they still having a secret meeting with DoD etc to hear their thoughts on the bill? Are they still having the open meeting with impartial experts? Am I still asking questions even though I know the answers are “no” and “hell no we just said that to shut you up”? Also, is there any way to force voting on the amendments to be carried out online? I can just imagine the screams of “the tubes must be blocked!” and “this magic internet box is a demon! Burn it lest it turn me homosexual!” while the amendments are voted through swiftly and painlessly.

    1. They completely dismissed complaints from the founding fathers of the internet yet during the debate most of them started any comments with “now im not going to pretend i know how this stuff works”

  5. This is just like the Digital Economy Act in the UK – rushed through during the “wash up” process on the last day of Parliament when most MPs were elsewhere..

  6. As I try to explain to people the problem with SOPA, I find myself at a lost for words. I can provide very few concrete examples of how SOPA will be abused by corporations.

    A few questions:

    How does this amount to censorship if there is a judge presiding over the decision to take down offending sites?

    How does this affect internet security? I have yet to see an explanation about this.

    If you were going to send one article to your friend about the evils of SOPA, what would it be?

    It’s great that the ‘architects of the internet’ and all the big players (Google, Facebook, etc) have come out against this, but the average non-technical person still does not understand how this legislation will affect them on a day-to-day level. They assume our congressmen have our best interest at heart and it will all work out in the end.

    1. The information you’re looking for is readily available, and Cory has kindly linked you to quite a bit of it.  So I don’t understand your lack of understanding.

      EDIT: my apologies for coming across as rude. Not intentional.

      1. “I don’t understand your lack of understanding.”

        Is that the way you respond to friends when they ask you a question about SOPA? And then you complain that only techies are up in arms about this issue.

        I would challenge anyone on here to answer my first two questions in a concise fashion. If you can’t, then maybe you don’t understand this issue as well as you think you do.

        In that case, we can blame ourselves instead of getting angry at the ignorant masses for not doing anything about this issue.

          1. Whilst you probably feel better, from the point of view of an outside observer you’re the one who comes off like a bit of a dick here.

            Notice I said “a bit of”. 

          2. Sorry, not intentional.  Just exasperated by people who ignore info right in front of them.  Cory has gone out of his way to gather and present sources on this subject so again, I don’t understand the reason for the original post to which I responded.

          3. These people are hopeless, Randall.

            After reading Cory’s mind-numbing quotes from the corporatist lackey scum in congress and watching you struggle with these inane commenters in this thread; I think I’ve finally found the very sad answer to this question:

            Conservatives.  Are they purposefully obtuse or just dense?

            The answer:  The conservative leaders are purposefully obtuse and the followers are just dense.

            Go ahead, conservative pawns… call me names.  I feed off your dumb monkey anger like sweet nectar and it only makes me feel more powerful and fills my soul with joy.

            More pep to my step, if you will?

          4. To Cowicide: Conservatives? SOPA looks like just another government regulation to me.

            As far as I can tell, this crosses the usual ideological lines. The Cato Institute is against it and the AFL-CIO is for it.

      1. A noble try, Cory.  I’m not sure they are really attempting to understand anything as opposed to acting obtuse and trying to muddle and confuse the issue.

        Let’s see if it sticks.

      2. I think of myself as fairly knowledgeable in the ways of DNS and bind, but I found that Volokh piece incomprehensible.  What is s/he talking about with that “Faced with silence from that server, the browser will go into fraud-prevention mode, casting about to find another DNS server that can give it the address.  Eventually, it will find a server in, say, Canada.” bit?  That’s not how client resolvers work… they don’t “cast about” unless I’m completely misunderstanding what Volokh meant by that.

        Not in favor of SOPA, not against DNSSEC necessarily (although I think CAs are a bunch of swindlers) but just puzzled.

        Maybe browsers are now being designed to be independent of local DNS sources? I’m pretty far out of the loop on browser design these days.

    2. I’m neither an expert nor a (tech) nerd, but it’s an interesting challenge.

      To take a stab at one reason for (1): the voluntary immunity provisions are a mess.  As I understand, they operate before a court order, so companies are deeply incentivized to react quickly to allegations, with no proviso at all for redress when those allegations are false.

      Many of us are also concerned that whenever you grant ill-defined and overly broad powers to the government, they threaten to be misused.

      Re: your below post, the problem is that this reads as concern trolling, even though you’re almost certainly not.

    3. The way the bill is written if one person posts copyrighted material on youtube ALL of youtube can be shut down.  If one person posts copyrighted material on facebook ALL of facebook can be shut down.

      With this type of threat hanging over their heads corperations or government officials can easily blackmail web sites to delete any content they find objectional, even it it does not violate copyright.

      Does this sound like a good idea?

        1. Yes, even if it’s in another country as long as the content originates from an American corporation.  THAT is why the greater Internet is worried.  It means every major internet site can be shut off the way Wikileaks has been with only a very small amount of recourse through American legal channels which some will not be able to afford.

      1. My understanding is that this can be done anyway already, no? Youtube already takes down offending content as does Facebook. If Youtube refused to take down offending content, then they could be shut down under current laws.

  7. LET EVERYONE KNOW: Lamar’s twitter is @LamarSmithTX21, other contact info here: HINT: Zip code 78028 (Providing that zip code bc apparently you have to be from his area if you want to speak to him at all.)

    1. He literally has it set up so you can’t phone/email him unless you use a zip from his district, he’s good at this whole censorship thing.

  8. Mel Watt (D) should have that quote engraved on his campaign’s tombstone.  Ugh.  More reasons to condemn the two party system, corporate control of the government, & seek out alternatives like third party & hardcore campaign finance reformers.

  9. It was pretty clear that the hearing would continue on the 21st. Also, the 21st is not Christmas, that’s on the 25th.

  10. OP:  “gorilla who’s staring quizzically down the rifle barrel”  
    I think this would be a perfect metaphor for congress in this scenario if instead of merely staring down the barrel of the rifle, the gorilla is enthusiastically gorging on the end of the the rifle barrel, slobberingly trying to force more and more of the rifle barrel down his gagging throat with successive thrusts, eagerly awaiting a big pay-off, as if the rifle barrel, instead of bullets, contains MONEY, and will, after enough vigorous application of the gorilla’s hungry mouth, spew MONEY all over the exhausted gorilla’s face, in a final dramatic MONEY shot.If anyone out there has a good, high-resolution photo of that, please post in comments.

  11. God help you, friends in USA, with these people making your laws. Wait a minute, I don’t believe in god.
    Hitchens help you. (But don’t bother saying any prayers to him.

  12. In the state where I live, a few years ago, they passed a major ban on smoking.  No smoking in restaurants, bars, private clubs; specific distances for smokers to be “corralled” away from doors and windows; specifics on the type of “enclosures” where smokers could congregate.  It was incredibly strict, and fines and penalties were assigned for those businesses found to be in violation of the ban.  Soon enough, restaurants and bars were closing because they no longer had clientele to support the business, and realized that smokers would rather drink at home than be forced to stand out in the rain, snow, and freezing temperatures (or the extreme heat and humidity in summer).  What the state did NOT do was assign enough people to “police” the reports of violations, and many bars and restaurants refused to pay the fines levied against them.  As of a few months ago, over $1,000,000 in fines were unpaid, with no one to enforce the law.

    I have a feeling that this — like the smoking ban — is going to go down the same road.  I fail to see how they will be able to enforce or monitor sites with millions of members posting on the average of every few seconds.  I can’t imagine that there will be a branch of government large enough to focus strictly on enforcing this issue, and it will end up being a half-hearted attempt to do something sensible that fails miserably, because the “but if you pass it, it means that…” problems are being steadfastly ignored by the very people who are entrusted to study all sides of the issue prior to passage of the legislation.

    1. That’s a pretty bad corollary. In many places the smoking ban has increased the number of people going out to places. Remember, only about 10% of the population smokes, and the other 90% generally doesn’t want to be around that nasty nonsense. It’s in the numbers, the studies, and the economic results.

      I’m not for telling people where to smoke, I don’t like those laws. But economically speaking, it was a boost for almost every city & state that has passed them.

      Maybe if you compared it to “Prohibition” or the forced 21 and over drinking age. In Louisiana as recently as the late 90s, when the state was black mailed with highway money by the Feds, they gave in and raised the state mandated drinking age from 18 to 21. It might have saved 10-20 people’s lives per year, but it ruined thousands, put about 20k people out of work, and shuttered thousands of small bars and restaurants all over the state. That action had huge repurcusions (again, thanks to the Federal man-handling of the states) for the state of Louisiana.

      This bill will most likely, if pushed through, result in a very similar but much larger situation.

      People will go more underground (more like the mid-90s) and warez/bootleggers will just disappear from the obvious realms – if, as you pointed out Kerri, they can even remotely enforce the stupid bill.

      1. Very well put.  I can’t compare them either, because I’ve seen the same result with restaurants banning smoking outright.  Around here they’re full!

        That said, I don’t agree with outright bans.  I’d prefer enclosed smoking areas.  That doesn’t translate to support for an “enclosed internet” though.  ;)

    2. Unfortunately in the case of internet control none of the barriers to policing are present. In fact it can help those who wish to censor sites, as it’s easier for ISPs to block then do any investigation. Smoking bans require physical attendance by officials to inspect and catch offenders. Your comparison would only be accurate if bars could be closed instantly, and as the result of a muttered accusation by the owner of a much larger bar down the street.  Plus the smoking ban would have to cripple citywide bar security,  close a 4000 occupancy bar because of one guy smoking in the alley out back, and completly fail to actually stop anyone smoking.  

  13. Leave it to Cory. In the middle of a discussion of congressional hearings: ‘
    there’s a scene in the Disneyland Jungle Boat Cruise where you pass the “gorilla camp,” …’ — and still he makes it work.

  14. So the moral of the story is that despite a big internet campaign and widespread outrage.. the powers that be don’t care and do what they want anyway. So much for “call your congress critter”. Apparently even the expert testimony is pointless.
    Wanted: Reason not to feel complete apathy over the political process.

    1. The problem is that unless you make $500,000+ a year, when you speak, all they hear is the woh-wuh-woh-wah-woh of Charlie Brown’s teacher. 

    2. Wanted: Reason not to feel complete apathy over the political process.

      Well, since the goal is to keep you fat and apathetic, maybe you could use sheer contrarian cussedness as a reason to keep fighting?

      Works for me, although not for everyone…

  15. I think Lawrence Lessig has the right perspective on this.  As with copyright, there is little or no point in fighting one single issue.  The real problem is money in politics and the attendant corruption.  It’s not that politicians are so stupid that they don’t understand *your issue here*, it’s that the people that enable politicians to continue functioning have a specific outcome that they are buying.

  16. Cory, here in the US we have a very simple test to determine whether a politician is lying. You just look to see whether their lips are moving.

  17. In general I’m in favor of letting people look down the barrel of their loaded shotgun while figuring out how it works. But the problem is that Congress is trying to figure out the gun while pointing it away from themselves and at everyone else.

    We’ve already seen how this works in other countries. The media corporations will get lists of violators and they won’t go after anyone important. Congress and their family and friends won’t be held to the same rules as everyone else.

  18. I am surprised that none of you stupids can see any upside of SOPA.
    After SOPA is passed, you can go back to dial-up internet and also remove data plan from cell phone. This will save you some money.

  19. If we fuck up our domain name system in an effort to prevent piracy because legislators make decisions they are wholly unqualified to make, the Internet will survive.

    The deep web or darknet is a seldom traveled neighborhood but I suspect it will see more tourists. TOR or similar technologies will become commonplace and onion sites will become easier to find an navigate. People will not sit idly by and have technology taken away from them. If experience teaches us anything it is that technology evolves to suit our needs no matter what.

    The result? Piracy (or much worse) will flourish as never before.

    Your move congress. We have checkmate in our sights.

    1. I don’t know the ins and outs of the act, just the big-picture repercussions, but if all they’re able to do is meddle with DNS then surely someone can just set up a private DNS that ignores SOPA?

      Simplistic I know, but imagine the fancy version of what I said.

  20. If anyone out there has a good, high-resolution photo of the gorilla camp (especially the gorilla who’s staring quizzically down the rifle barrel), I’d be much obliged if you could upload it somewhere under a Creative Commons Attribution license, so that we could use it as a meme during Wednesday’s upcoming markup session.

    All with creative commons stuff  (attribution/details at flickr link)

    Can someone help me pick the right CC license? I don’t care about attribution for myself, so how do I remove that “restriction” and just make it freely accessible to anyone without having to give me credit?

    1. You can use a Creative Commons license to put it in the public domain.  No attribution necessary.

      Is this what you’re after?

      ETA: Oh, it looks like you’ve created this using images under various other CC licenses. You’d have to share it under those to respect their licenses. (i.e., is one image is ‘non-commercial’, you have to share your remix as NC, otherwise someone else may go against the source image license.)

      Best way around it I can think of is to share it as CC (BY-NC-SA) but state that it may be used without attribution (a clause you can use to waive attribution case-by-case or universally). But this isn’t giving attribution to the source images, so . . . the best you can do is ask their permission to remix their work and share it under a weaker license.

      Hope this helps!

      1. Thank you Andrew.  I’m going to dig into it now and fix it.

        From looking at their licenses, it does allow for remixing. When I did the flickr searches I made sure that’s the images that came up.

        All of them say:

        You are free:

        to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work
        to Remix — to adapt the work

  21. If progress means moving forward, what does Congress mean?

    Maybe we can break it down:

    Definition:     trick
    Synonyms:     bluff, cheat, crime, deception, double-cross, dupe, fraud, gold brick, graft, mockery, swindle, take in.

    Antonyms:     honesty, truthfulness


    gress: meaning step, degree & walk.

    So, why are we supporting Congress?

    The pathetic believe in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.
    Three wolves and a lamb, voting on what’s for dinner.
    Controlled mob rule.
    …when will we learn?

  22. The apparent stupidity of those defending SOPA in government reminds me of something quite different.

    ‘The one thing any politician must do, no matter how powerful, is stay bought.’
    — Spider Robinson

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