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SOPA and PIPA. What's all the fuss?

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Lots of chatter and coverage of the US House bill Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and its sister Senate bill Protect Intellectual Privacy Act (PIPA) as these bills move through the sausagemaking that is our legislative process.

People feel strongly about these bills and are jumping on any bully pulpit to instill fear in the hearts of the non-supporters (or supporters, depending on the pulpit).  As with most impassioned controversy, most of the coverage is limited to the polar extremes.  Each side focusing on the most liberal interpretations of the most fringe aspects and exploding that into an argument against apple pie.

Here are some of my most favorite arguments.

First from those against the “Blacklist Bills” (all from the rousing Electronic Frontier Foundation site):

Large corporations would be able to stamp out emerging competitors and skirt anti-trust laws

If passed, venture capitalist will never again invest in online startups

It would decimate the open source software community

It would criminalize linking and the fundamental structure of the Internet itself

And now some favorites from those in favor of the “Rogue Site Legislation”:

Obama has thrown in his lot with Silicon Valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy, plain thievery.

Rogue sites even sell dangerously defective goods that needlessly jeopardize the health and safety of American consumers who are deceived into purchasing consumer goods that are poorly constructed or even contaminated with dangerous toxins.

So, take your pick.  Decimated freedom or toxic death?

I am not a maker of motion pictures or music or video games.  I don’t buy drugs online.  I don’t download pirated stuff.  So, the existence of rogue sites doesn’t have much of an impact on me personally or professionally.  Nonetheless, I do believe those seeking to protect their innovation should be granted that protection.

However, I do run a company that makes websites for other companies, so aspects of the proposed legislation have the potential to cause problems with that service.  Specifically:

Ambiguity over what power can be wielded if a website contains user-generated content and some of that content is deemed to be protected by copyright.

Lack of confidence that legislators fully understand the DNS system and the proposed DNSSEC system, the underlying technology necessary to block rogue sites.

Other unintended consequences and a general uneasiness with the concept of government-enforced limitations.  They are easy to implement and nearly impossible to retract.

It took awhile, but I found a reasonably un-biased overview of the issue for those, like me, are late to the discussion and in need of a balanced launching point.

So far, I would fall on the side of those against the legislation in its current, evolving form.  The goals are worthy, but the methods need work.  There is too much chance for collateral damage with the current proposals.  Making it even more challenging is the fact that the Internet is designed to be open and dynamically circumvent limitations.

On the positive side, it is encouraging to see the democratic process in action.  It's always heartening when our form of representative government responds to groundswells.  Hopefully, when the process is done, the combined efforts of both sides will produce legislation that can protect IP without "criminalizing the fundamental structure of the Internet." 

But then again, I've always been an optimist.

Note: Post updated March 3, 2016 to remove some link rot.

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