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Studying for a test? Prepare with this lesson on American civics.
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Let's say that you´re the owner of some type of copyrighted material- maybe it's a movie, maybe it's music of some kind- and you observe that there is a site that is operating outside of the United States and that site-at least in your mind- seems to be infringing on your copyright by US law. So this is the site in question - and you're saying that it is doing illegal things, at least by US standards. The problem is that there's nothing you can do - it's operating outside of US soil and outside of US laws. You can even go to the government, even if the government wanted to do something about it, it really couldn't. Because once again, it's outside the US jurisdiction. The purpose of SOPA-and it seems fairly benign at first- is to give some tools to these actors to stop this. The problem-and we´ll see that it's quite a large problem- is that it gives tools to these actors to do much more than just stopping illegal activity; it allows them essentially to go on, to some degree, a kind of a witch hunt for anyone that might even have a whiff of enabling this type of activity. -it won´t even just be for foreign sites. So let's write this down, so SOPA stands for: Stop Online Piracy Act - and it sounds pretty reasonable - and this is the version of the bill that's coming from the House of Representatives. The one from the Senate, that's slightly different but they have the same intent, is PIPA [Protect IP Act]. And what it does is, if you can´t go after this site itself maybe you can go after sites that is somehow benefiting this site. And those sites are inside the United States. So this is outside, this is inside the United States. So things that are doing that might include search engines. So search engines like Google or Bing. They obviously link to this site over here. You might have ad networks - so sites that allow this site over here to display ads and to get revenue from them - that are benefiting this site over here. You might have payment sites like PayPal or credit card processors that this site uses to collect revenue. And, maybe most importantly, you have things like the DNS servers within the US that associate this site's domain name with the actual servers. And I wont get too technical about it, but when you type in something like www.shady.foreign , and once again, we´re gonna see that this site might not even have to be shady or foreign- but when you type something like that in - there´re servers in the United states that associate that with these servers that might be operated outside the United States - that associate this text with a number that points to this website, that points to this website's servers. So these are all things within the United States - that to some degree this site is dependent on. So what SOPA does is, it allows these actors here - the ones that are obviously concerned with enforcing their copyrights - to issue court orders and notices to these actors right over here that essentially compels them, very strongly, to immediately cut off ties with this illegal site - or what they think is an illegal site. Now that might seem reasonable to you, except for the fact that it's kind of a "shoot first and think later" type of policy. The basic way it works is, you presume guilt until this guy somehow tries to prove his innocence and we´ll see this guy isn't necessarily outside the US. It might even be completely legal, or what I would consider completely legal sites inside the US. Essentially as soon as this allegation is made and either a court order or a notice is payed, these enablers have to cut off ties to this site - and you can imagine that if these cut off ties to this site, - this sites´ business - whatever it might be - whether illegal or legal, immediately gets obliterated, especially this one here including search engines, ad networks and payments. And if they don´t comply then these guys are going to start having a legal battle. So these guys are not only going to have to comply-and that by itself is hard- but if they don´t comply, then they themselves are going to be in trouble. Now it gets really obviously creepy, when you start going into - so when you think of this - you´re like okay, so maybe we can work around this a little bit. But it gets creepy when you even know this is the spirit of the legislation, when you actually read the wording of the legislation- and obviously that's what matters, not the name or the intent- But actually how it's worded-I mean, the way it's worded - it´s pretty clear that its intent is to go after much more than just a site that's explicitly selling illegal pharmaceuticals or allowing people to download movies or, or videos or music that these owners don´t have access to. When you read the wording, it's pretty clear that they want to be able to shut down anything that is in any way associating with itself - or in any way enabling it. And you see it in the wording. So this is actually section 1.0.3 of the SOPA legislation - and this is how they define a site that is dedicated to theft of US property. So an internet site is dedicated to theft of US property if - and, so you know, it's useable by people in the United States - and this is interesting: It´s "primarily designed or operated for the purpose of," "has only limited purpose or use other than," "or is marketed by its operator or another acting in concert" "with that operator for use in, offering goods or services in a manner" "that engages in, enables, or facilitates" - now this is interesting - enables or facilitates all of these violations. And these are the violations that would be illegal: You´re selling things that you can´t sell, you´re infringing on other people´s copyright. And it might seem harmless, this "enables, or facilitates", until you think about what that could encapsulate. If I have a site, like this, I am part of a site: Khan Academy Let´s say someone puts a message on Khan Academy and from Khan Academy they link to a site that actually is really illegal and that is really shady and they link to it in the message boards. Well, under this am I enabling, is Khan Academy enabling or facilitating? And if that's the case, then Khan Academy - by this definition - would be considered to be a site that is dedicated to theft of US property. And there are much bigger players than just Khan Academy, that can be thrown into this bucket, players like YouTube or Vimeo or any site. Or even a news site, that allows people to put comments, or allows people to put images, things like Flickr. That maybe had - in some way - their users infringing on the copyright now all of the sudden the whole site - based on this definition - the entire site can be defined as a site dedicated to theft of US property. By this definition YouTube could be that, if it's viewed in kind of enabling or facilitating. Khan Academy, any news site could be viewed like that. Vimeo could be viewed that way, a photo sharing site could be viewed like that. People might take a photo or something that they don´t have the copyright and upload an image and all the sudden - by this definition - based on just a sense that that's being violated, they won´t just be able to shut down these illegal sites; they would be able to shut down things like YouTube, or Vimeo, or even things like CNN.com, if someone puts a message or an image, that they think is somehow violating. And so it's not just going-right now the methodology is, if there is some content on YouTube or Vimeo or some other site, that they feel is infringing on their copyright, there are laws, where they contact YouTube directly, they point them to the content, that seems to be infringing and YouTube, or Vimeo, or whoever will take down that content. But what this allows them to do is shoot first and think later: "Oh, look: You´re enabling that"; if they could convince some court to give a court order, they can start giving notice to these players right over here to cut off ties with major - what I would consider very legal sites - like YouTube or Vimeo or CNN. It´s really almost any site that allows people to upload things onto it, or put links on it, which is almost - Facebook is another one - anything that has user generated content. On just a whim they could take down the entire site - not just take down that user generated content - they could, on just convincing one judge, or convincing just any of these, they could cut off ties with Facebook. Not even making Facebook.com point to Facebook anymore. CNN - they could just completely take down these sites on a whim. And it gets worse than that, because you would say: "well, look, if they can take this down on a whim and, you know," "maybe they kind of thought it was, but they didn't do their homework" "and then they realize that it wasn't copyright infringement," "couldn't these guys sue back?"-although, already, the damage would have been done, these sites would have been taken down; they would have lost millions or billions of dollars; millions, or tens or hundreds of millions, of users would not be able to access these things and this would also be true for Wikipedia, if someone uploaded something that wasn't completely, 100%, vetted, they could take down the entire site, not just that content. And you say: "Okay, that's bad enough!" "But couldn't these people say: `Hey, look, you wrongfully took us down,`" "`we´re going to sue you now`". Well to see that they can´t and to see how one-sided this legislation is, notice: The threshold for being able to sued back, if you kind of misrepresented a violation - the only way you´re kind of held accountable is if you knowingly, materially misrepresented the violation. So, if the copyright holder just says: "Oh, I think someone on YouTube"-you know- "I feel pretty good that someone on YouTube is violating" and that YouTube is enabling a violation and, therefore, YouTube is a site dedicated to theft of US property and it later on it finds out that it wasn't, it was fair use or maybe that person actually did have the copyright to it, they can´t be sued, because they said: "Oh, I just thought it was"; they weren't knowingly materially misrepresenting themselves. So even if it ends up not even being a violation, these guys could take the site down. Maybe some small producers actually secured the rights, put it up on YouTube and then, all of the sudden, these guys take down all of YouTube based on not actually knowing what they are talking about. And there can´t even be a counter suit in that case, based on the law. And it gets even creepier than that, because to be considered this you don´t even just have to enable or facilitate - which is almost anything- one could argue a computer is enabling or facilitating this on some level. But you are considered to be a site dedicated to theft of US property, even if you do nothing illegal, even if you don´t enable anything illegal, but if you just take actions that make it difficult for authorities to confirm that you´re doing something illegal. So if you view this in the physical world: obviously, some people are doing illegal things in their homes and, obviously, some people lock their doors to keep people out of their homes. And maybe people are doing illegal things, it would even be more likely to lock their doors and close their shutters. What this would do-and this would do it in the virtual sense- is say: "Look! Just by taking the deliberate action of closing your shutters" "and looking your doors, which makes it hard for federal agents to confirm" "that you´re doing illegal things - just by doing that - that itself is an illegal act". This is maybe one of the creepiest and draconian Intrusions of privacy, that I have actually heard of, that was even attempted to be passed into law. So if I were you - just as a kind of a privacy and liberty loving American - I´d be worried.