Recently, a customer wrote in for more information on these two important pieces of legislation. Here’s the response from SWCP President Mark Costlow, that we thought was so good, it deserved to be posted:

SOPA and PROTECT-IP are both very bad ideas. They are attempts to address something that is a real problem (theft of intellectual property) but they do it in such a flawed way that the cure would be much worse than the disease.

One can argue back and forth about how much of a problem piracy really is. Both sides tend to blow their positions out of proportion. But giving people the power to turn off (read: destroy) web sites at will, without due process, is irresponsible and dangerous. The existing mechanisms for removing infringing material from the internet already have “baby vs bathwater” problems, and these bills would make it worse.

Here’s one example. DMCA Takedowns are routinely used to remove videos from YouTube which are deemed to contain a media company’s copyrighted material, when in fact the usage is in a news or commentary context and therefore covered under the Fair Use doctrine. The harmed party can protest the takedown and get it reversed, but that process is lengthy. For someone who makes their living commenting on current events, the takedown essentially nullifies the content.  It’s almost useless when they restore it 2 weeks later. Here’s a write-up of a recent case of this, but it’s not an isolated occurence.

SOPA will make this much worse. Instead of removing individual content they will be wiping entire sites off the Internet. Mistakes will be made, the power will be used by the wrong people for the wrong reasons. People may have recourse, but it will be a lengthy and expensive process and livelihoods will be ruined in the mean time. (I think this is the most benign outlook on what might happen – darker predictions involve use of these tools by an emerging Police State to control information and stifle dissent. You can choose for yourself where you fall on this continuum).

Many congresspeople admitted in the hearings that they have NO understanding about how this technology works. They are not qualified to pass legislation related to it.

Adam Savage has a good write-up on this, along with some pointers to other good material.  If you wish to comment on the bill, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) can help you send a message to your congressperson.