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.
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.