Commentary

It's Not Over Yet: Why You Should Still Be Concerned About SOPA And PIPA

As some of you may know, I am on the international board of directors of SEMPO, and recently we weighed in on the debate about SOPA and PIPA in the House and Senate respectively. We became aware of this issue going back several months, and we sent the association’s position to key individuals in Congress.  Overall, both our U.S. and international board members fully supported this position, not as advocating for search engines or large Web properties, but on behalf of our membership that does business on the Internet, whether they are a larger enterprise, or individual proprietorship.  

The good news is that Congress listened, as many direct responses were received with regards to our position. But the rest of this column involves some of my personal thoughts on what has transpired over the last few months with these bills.

I’ve been closely monitoring the SOPA and PIPA bills for months, and it seems astounding that they are seriously being considered for passage. I watched the House hearing in mid-December with shock and awe:  “awe” that this might be the undoing of the Internet, and “shock” at those who were moving forward in admitted ignorance of what they were debating.  Adding to the "awesomeness" of the hearing, Rep. Melvin Watt (D - NC), went on a five minute spiel about how they should avoid any discussions of “who’s been bought off, or not,” because it wouldn’t serve any valuable purpose. That statement alone spoke volumes about what was at stake.  

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Both Sen. Harry Reid and SOPA sponsor Rep. Lamar Smith were saying “what’s the big deal, we have bipartisan support?”  Support between two parties who normally can’t agree on anything, yet somehow crashing the U.S. Internet is a cause for quickly joining hands around the firewall and singing a couple of rounds of Kumbayá.


You can either be “for” the open Internet, or not -- there is no in-between

I support an open Internet because I believe it benefits not just business, but our society as a whole.  Clearly, there is a monumental shift that has occurred in the last 17 years, and will continue to occur. Based on statements by Sen. Harry Reid, Sen. Christopher Dodd, Sen. Al Franken, and Rep. Lamar Smith, this is not the last time you will see a power struggle to take over the U.S Internet. This is “for-real” this time folks, a classic clash between old media and new media.  Of all of the supporters for these bills, I’m particularly shocked at Al Franken’s. He has been a voice for net neutrality in the past, but he supported this bill, and he also suggested that Google’s algorithm should be regulated by the government. 

Let me make the crux of this column clear: You are either for an open Internet, or you are not.  There is no in-between. 

Here is an outline of the basic threats of legislation that will inevitably be rewritten, and resubmitted:

Equal access for users. In an open Internet, content will not be denied because someone disagrees with a point of view, in a way that those with a dissenting opinion could easily sabotage an entire domain and its contents. 

Protection of long-tail economies.  With the rise of the commercial Internet in the mid-1990s, long-tail economies that did not previously exist arose in a new and meaningful way.  An open and equal playing field ensures that our economy will continue to thrive and remain competitive in this networked society that we have created. For examples, a shutdown of Yahoo would also include Yahoo Shopping, and all of the small business that legally market a wide variety of goods and services. It is simply a bad idea to shut down a city and its businesses because of one bad actor hawking counterfeits on the corner.

User-generated content.  SOPA and PIPA would make it much riskier for sites that host any form of user-generated content. This includes the small individual bloggers and webmasters, all the way up to Google, Facebook, Ebay, and Twitter.

Linking. Have link rot on your site and haven’t checked your links in a while? In a world where SOPA/PIPA are law, you could be in violation, and have your entire business and domain yanked down, with the burden of proof being on you.

DNS system breakage. Bottom line, it was a bad idea, and no one had thought about the consequences. Little Business or Big Business, you can’t screw around with the DNS like this when transactional data is being sent over the network.

Real-time interaction.  Seriously, would you want to start a real-time user-generated content play in a world where any idiot could knowingly or unknowingly sabotage your business or community? I didn’t think so.

Domain business takedowns without due process. To have your domain taken down entirely, all you would need is a claim by a copyright holder. These bills basically give the U.S. IP lobby eminent domain to bulldoze your website until further notice, or your burden of proof has been met.

Free speech.  SOPA and PIPA are tantamount to a totalitarian firewall that Americans typically fight against.

Again, all of the above is what a bipartisan group in congress, along with the MPAA and RIAA, wants to weaken, if not totally destroy.  As a U.S. citizen, I would be interested if anyone if Congress or their staff would like to respond here in the comments of this article -- you would be reaching a good audience of U.S. citizens and people interested in the U.S. Internet abroad by doing so.  I’m also interested in all reader comments, either in the comments section of the Search Insider blog, or by emailing or tweeting me directly @robgarner.

14 comments about "It's Not Over Yet: Why You Should Still Be Concerned About SOPA And PIPA".
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  1. Chris Gleason from Servant Marketing Group, LLC., January 25, 2012 at 12:04 p.m.

    The question is, how much will it cost to make this little issue go away? wink.. Calling the New Media heavy lifters - this is your call to action! Please send your $'s to the proper K Street lobbying powerhouse for janitorial services. Freedom FROM, folks, Freedom FROM.

  2. Thomas Siebert from BENEVOLENT PROPAGANDA, January 25, 2012 at 1:21 p.m.

    Great piece. I'd not seen the quote from NC's Watt before, which was a stunner. Good job.

  3. Rob Garner from Author of "Search and Social: The Definitive Guide to Real-Time Content Marketing Wiley/Sybex 2013, January 25, 2012 at 2:27 p.m.

    Chris and Thomas - thank you both for your comments.

  4. Jean Renard from TRM Inc., January 25, 2012 at 3:22 p.m.

    The idea that the internet is free now is a total joke. Net neutrality was defeated if you remember and now PAID content is favored over non paid content. Censorship is happening by default as people are going to be increasingly denied the stage and the microphone if they cannot pay for it.

    What is happening is that the selling of bandwidth for illegal uses which has created a lot of money for the ISP and created a lot of traffic for search engines now would come at a price. In criminal terms it would be akin to being an accessory to the crime.

    They do not want this, on the other side, those who want to make all acts criminal want to be the final arbiter of what is and is not a violation and to control the entire process. That also is really awful.

    What needs to happen is to re-visit net neutrality and the spirit thereof (unlikely I admit) and put in place some basic protection for copyright protection that all can see and make use of. That would democratize the internet and all can play equally.

    This is not about freedom, this is about control and both sides want it and will use scare tactics to convince you that their side is better, neither is, no matter who wins, the public will get screwed.

  5. Chris Gleason from Servant Marketing Group, LLC., January 25, 2012 at 8:18 p.m.

    Jean - thanks for the analysis. My point about freedom from - has more to do with government/political interference in the marketplace. As users/consumers we will determine the success or eventual failure of an idea, product or otherwise. Wishful I know - but the power to shakedown industry or entity or group is out of control...I stand down from the soap box!

  6. Norbert Lukacsi from Euroaccom.com, January 26, 2012 at 4:58 a.m.

    Great post Rob. This is why I am moving my new start-up business from US servers to Swiss servers. Especially since my B2B partnership will be European, it needs to be in Europe. Even the EU is against this bill.

    I do not want the US government or the British government where I live, to meddle into my business affairs.

    I myself work for a UK based web hosting company called Nativespace.co.uk/Netscanhosting.com.We had to shut down numerous sites that were perfectly legitimate businesses, just because the HM & Revenue Customs did not like the fact that they were not paying all their taxes in the UK.

  7. Michael Martinez from SEO Theory, January 26, 2012 at 1:54 p.m.

    You need to get your facts straight. SOPA and PIPA in no way threaten free speech. It's time for anti-SOPA advocates to stop using lies and propaganda to advance their position.

    Everything you people said would come to pass if SOPA/PIPA are enacted into law IS ALREADY HAPPENING and HAS BEEN HAPPENING *for years*.

    The Internet is still here and freedom of expression has not died and people continue to innovate.

    Instead, what we see are post after post of fear-mongering that promises nothing but a glorious future for Google's political will -- and, quite frankly, I'd rather be represented by the people in Congress than by Google.

  8. Rob Garner from Author of "Search and Social: The Definitive Guide to Real-Time Content Marketing Wiley/Sybex 2013, January 26, 2012 at 4:11 p.m.

    Thanks again for all of the comments.

    Michael, the facts are straight. I've read your post on how you believe everyone else but you is confused on SOPA/PIPA, and that this is all just propaganda.

    In your post, none of the points I have listed above are addressed, short of the topic of the DNS. On that one, you are at odds with the opinion of the man who invented the DNS himself, Vint Cerf, and even Esther Dyson, the former head of ICANN during its pivotal years in the late 1990's.

    I do agree that some of the these things have been happening ad hoc for many years (Homeland Security takedowns of domains are one example). But these bills would grease up the process and make it much more fluid, and occur at a faster pace.

    As your comment indicates, the people I am finding to be in support of SOPA/PIPA are more "anti-Google" than they are "pro-SOPA." I'm not a Google apologist by any means, and my column history speaks to that. If you would rather let the government represent the RIAA and MPAA for you by proxy, then I suspect that you did not watch the mid-December hearings at all. But I would recommend it - very entertaining.

    http://judiciary.house.gov/hearings/mark_12152011.html

  9. Kevin Horne from Lairig Marketing, January 26, 2012 at 6:04 p.m.

    "You are either for an open Internet, or you are not. There is no in- between. Those who say the threat is overhyped are not aware of the facts."

    In all seriousness, i do not get the relation of the 3rd sentence above to the first 2 sentences. What does "overhyping" have to do with a group of lawmakers (making the assumption they are qualified) trying to establish some rules or regs with a goal of seeking out a successful compromise position?

    Are you saying that you believe the following: "being a little private is like being a little pregnant?"

  10. Rob Garner from Author of "Search and Social: The Definitive Guide to Real-Time Content Marketing Wiley/Sybex 2013, January 26, 2012 at 7:26 p.m.

    Fair point - and maybe your words are a better way of putting it. I think the sentence may have strayed off from another paragraph. Happens sometimes in the self-editing process. Thanks for your comment.

  11. Michael Martinez from SEO Theory, January 26, 2012 at 9:36 p.m.

    Very funny, Rob, that you should try to mislead your readers by falsely suggesting that I think everyone else but me is confused. Clearly you're not interested in promoting any facts here.

    Let's look at your lies in this post:

    EQUAL ACCESS FOR USERS. Nothing in either SOPA or PIPA threatens this (although while you were beating the drums over SOPA Google took some of that equal access away from you with a cleverly engineered FCC vote). Feel free to site the specific sections of either bill which deny equal access for users.

    PROTECTION OF LONG-TAIL ECONOMIES. Nothing in either SOPA or PIPA threatens optimizing a Website for long-tail keywords, but feel free to cite any specific section of other bill that you feel does this.

    USER-GENERATED CONTENT is specifically protected by both bills which establish that Websites must be specifically dedicated to infringing copyrights (per standards established by existing laws that are already being enforced against domestic/USA Websites).

    LINKING is not affected by either SOPA or PIPA, except where SOPA would require either an advertising network or a search engine (both clearly and specifically defined) to remove links to infringing Websites that meet the criteria for being DEDICATED to infringing content. Your basic Web forum is immune (and most Americans don't hang out on foreign-owned Web forums anyway).

    DNS SYSTEM BREAKAGE. Again, nothing in either bill would break the system. These measures are already in force in existing laws that are enforced against child pornography, drug trafficking, and terrorism. Furthermore, even if people tried to reach these sites by IP addresses, the people would have to know the IP addresses in advance of the domain names being removed from the system AND the infringing sites would still have to be served FIRST by their respective Web servers -- something not likely to happen very often on shared servers.

    DOMAIN BUSINESS TAKEDOWNS WITHOUT DUE PROCESS This is completely false. The burden of proof is on the complainant, not the accused infringing site. The courts have applied very strict measures to protect domestic Websites against unlawful takedowns (and to file a false complaint is a felony so not many people would try to do it anyway). The courts already have a body of case law to apply to any takedown requests.

    You have either not read the bills, don't understand them, or just want to promote nonsense in the tradition of drumming up readership through controversy.

    However, you are irresponsibly repeating and spread lies and false information. You're not being very considerate or your readers, many of whom are probably even less likely than you to actually take the time to read the bills and see that they don't do any of the terrible things you and others have falsely claimed.

  12. Rob Garner from Author of "Search and Social: The Definitive Guide to Real-Time Content Marketing Wiley/Sybex 2013, January 26, 2012 at 10:35 p.m.

    Thanks again Michael for chiming in. I'll just say that we'll have to agree to disagree. Best wishes, Rob

  13. Rob Garner from Author of "Search and Social: The Definitive Guide to Real-Time Content Marketing Wiley/Sybex 2013, January 27, 2012 at 2:38 p.m.

    As a follow up to those who still may be reading this for the first time, Lifehacker blogged about an excellent infographic by Lumin Consulting that visually lays out some of the concepts described in my post:

    http://lifehacker.com/5879966/sopa-and-pipa-technical-issues-explained-simply-in-infographic-form

  14. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, January 27, 2012 at 5:30 p.m.

    It's interesting to me how this is quickly becoming opposition to ALL intellecutal property protection online. And how well funded that effort is by the BIG COMPANIES who stand to reap massive profit by stealing content from the people who've worked hard to make it (like Google). So I agree that SOPA and PIPA are extremely flawed and should be opposed. At the same time, the opposition is being suckered by companies who are taking their stand NOT for the "social benefit" reasons we hear so much about. Rather - because they want to make more profit off of other people's work.

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