Monday, December 26, 2011

Stop Online Piracy Act Explained

As it stands, our government can only take down domestic sites and only if they intend on going to trial. They must show probable cause the site was used for criminal activity. Protect IP and SOPA would allow sites to be taken down indefinitely, without even the intention of a hearing or a trial. Even with the governments current system, they have improperly barred legitimate sites. The idea of handing the DOJ this kind of power is truly alarming.  

This bill gives the Department of Justice the right to extinguish a domain by convincing a judge it's "primarily dedicated to infringement." The judge is not required to hear the defense of the websites operator. 

Currently, any domestic website that has infringing content has to take it down at the request of the copyright holder. If SOPA and Protect IP pass, copyright holders could go to the web hosting companies and demand they take down the entire site. First Amendment counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, Michael MacLeod-Ball said "The way the bill is set up, if a site has infringing content on it ... their default reaction is going to be to take down the whole site."

This could lead to content screening by hosting companies and prematurely taking down legitimate sites. Deputy Director of the Future of Music Coalition, Casey Rae-Hunter said "It would be a very tragic thing if in the name of protecting artists, we saw the most important platform of our time become the province of just a few companies deciding what is and isn't legitimate expression."

The government would use tampering of the domestic Domain Name System, to shut down these sites. In a letter to congress, 108 law professors said "The Internet's Domain Name System ("DNS") is a foundational building block upon which the Internet has been built and on which its continued functioning critically depends. The Act will have potentially catastrophic consequences for the stability and security of the DNS."

While it's gotten little attention in mainstream media, almost 1,000 registered lobbyists are officially pushing for SOPA. Including the parent companies of Fox News, Fox Business, MSNBC and CNBC. Pointing out support of the bill, Fred Wilson says "Either they don't understand the basic fundamentals of the Internet, or they're just doing this to get the MPAA and the [Recording Industry Association of America] off their backs."

These organizations have castigated internet piracy for years. The RIAA even sued an American 12-year old girl, for piracy, because she downloaded children's music on her parents' computer.

The Motion Picture Association of America ("MPAA") organized the website Creative America, whose goal is to depict SOPA and Protect IP as a job creator. Former Senator Dodd, who is now chairman of the MPAA, said "Behind Hollywood's red-carpet image lays a blue-collar reality. Most of those 2.2 million jobs are held by middle income families and small-business owners, men and women whose names will never appear on a theater marquee, but whose efforts are critical." This number takes credit for 1.6 million catering companies, florists, hardware stores and other industries that do not rely solely on working with Hollywood.

Chairman of the Judiciary Committee and presenter of Protect IP, Pat Leahy's two largest campaign contributors are Disney and Time Warner; according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Senator Al Franken, who has called net neutrality "the most important free speech issue of our time," is a co-sponsor of the bill. Along with Franken, all 22 Democratic Senate co-sponsors have voted to preserve net neutrality in the past.

Public Knowledge co-founder Gigi B. Sohn said "Hollywood is really putting the screws to just about everybody they do business with. Netflix, the Writers Guild -- they're all coming to me and saying, 'Can't you say something good about this? "

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who share's his state with Disney World and Universal Studios, is a co-sponsor. House co-sponsors Elton Gallegy, Mary Bono Mack and Denniss Ross all have significant Hollywood presence in their districts. Another noteworthy fact is that co-sponsors  Steve Chabot, Mike Enzi, Lindsay Graham and Lee Terry receive large percentages of their campaign donations from drug and pharmaceutical companies.

SOPA would prohibit importation of "mislabeled" prescription drugs; a broad provision that would block all Canadian drugs. At the same time, pharmaceutical companies are campaigning to blurr lines between accredited Canadian online pharmacies and the real problem of bogus internet-acquired drugs.

John Clark, the Chief Security Officer of Pfizer pharmaceutical company, says "The major threat to patients in the U.S., however, is the Internet and the many professional-looking websites that promise safe, FDA-approved, branded medicines from countries such as Canada or the U.K."

They funnel cash into the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who organized The Coalition Against Counterfeiting and Piracy. The Coalition started and produces videos that link dangerous counterfeit drugs with all Canadian imported drugs.

"Somebody could end up dead. It could be a child next time. It could be your friend, it could be anybody. And they just don't care. They are just after the money. And it has to be stopped." Said a narrator in one video after a friend buys prescription drugs from Canada and dies.

Although purchasing drugs from Canada is illegal, technically, the Food and Drug Administration informally allows it and many states have implemented official Canadian drug importation regimes; under the condition that it's by prescription and for personal use only. Even AARP recommends using the Canadian International Pharmacy Association, to legitimize online pharmacies and save money on prescriptions.

In a section called the "private right of action," the bill gives corporations the power to embargo sites they consider dedicated to infringement and dictate who payment processors and search engines do business with.

Shortly after the bill dropped, 9 tech giants including AOL, Facebook, Google and Twitter, wrote a letter to lawmakers asking them to reject it. The Financial Services Roundtable, which represents the largest banks in the nation, and JP Morgan Chase are asking congress to cast out the bill.

With many corporate sponsors opposing the bill; only Google was invited to the hearing of the Judiciary Committee. At the same time, the FTC is looking into their business practices, the IRS is investigating their tax maneuvering,  the Department of Justice is investigating their obtainment of Motorola Mobility and they recently settled with the DOJ for $500 million; on the charges they accepted ads from online pharmacies who shipped drugs to Americans without prescriptions.

In October, Yahoo publicly withdrew from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because of it's ongoing support of the bill. It's rumored that Google may also withdraw from the Chamber but that could be complicated for the company. Google saves $1 billion a year, in taxes, by stashing money in Ireland and the Netherlands but only if they don't bring it back to America. Leaving the Chamber would expose the companies lobbying efforts; like those to allow companies to bring offshore funds back to America at little or no tax.

Powerful companies could have a lot to gain and lose on both sides of this issue and it has certainly amassed plenty of campaign dollars. With an election year coming up, no one will want to support an issue that divides voters and the bill is not likely to come to a vote before the end of next year.

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