SOPA: Why Anti-Piracy Laws Would Result In The Death Of The Internet As We Know It

The Obama administration stated this weekend that it would not support the Stop Online Piracy Act, the House’s version of the Senate-proposed Protect IP Act, due to censorship and security concerns.

Although theft is wrong, the White House is certainly right in blasting the bill, as most of what SOPA labels as piracy overreaches this claim and infringes on the freedom and security of the internet and its users. Since SOPA’s act against copyright infringement encompasses the outlawing of information sharing – the fundamental core of the internet as we know it – SOPA should not be passed.

By tampering with the security identification processes of browsers, SOPA presents a direct threat to Domain Name System Security Extension (DNSSEC) – the key reason behind the Obama administration opposing the bill.

DNSSEC protects security by ensuring each website domain name system (DNS) provides credentials. In the absence of credentials, secured browsers will assume a website is fake and contact servers until they get authenticity confirmation.

If SOPA were to pass while security measures were still in place, browsers would get no information from local servers blocked by this bill. However, the safety measures of DNSSEC ensure that browsers keep trying to access servers despite censorship, until they eventually find servers overseas to provide them with IP addresses. This action would directly contradict the blocking order mandated by SOPA, and thus, the attorney general is free to sue browsers that implement security measures. Since big browser companies such as Mozilla or Google would not risk lawsuits, they would neglect DNSSEC, effectively increasing cyber attacks and hackers, thereby putting the safety of the internet at risk.

Besides security concerns, there are other outstanding problems with SOPA. According to the bill, search engines would be required to ban websites that "infringe" on copyright giants. In addition to targeting browsers, this would put liability on internet service providers that fail to block sites. This, in turn, would bring the freedom of the internet itself to a screeching halt, giving rise to a censorship that violates freedom of expression.

Websites will also have to continually self-police their contents for user copyright infringement, lest they be in violation of the law. This puts websites with user-generated content such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, and Tumblr at constant risk.

In the case of a violation, SOPA states that ad networks and payment processors automatically stop business with the alleged offender website, significantly reducing payment processor and advertising revenue. In the case of false claims, there is also no requirement in the bill that ad networks and payment processors restore service to the website.

While copyright infringement is important, Congress must follow Obama’s lead and balance these interests with those of average internet users to avoid extremist measures such as the current version of SOPA. Helping the entertainment industry maintain blockbusters at the expense of security, freedom, innovation, and growth without truly understanding how the internet works is truly catastrophic. Unless the bill is thoroughly revised yet again, we risk creating a totalitarian and intrusive government-inspected internet.

Photo Credit: Flickr

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Rita Solomon

Rita Solomon is a Journalism and Politics double major at NYU. She is interested in the way digital media is evolving to accommodate non-professionals and giving a voice to all, especially pertaining to politics.

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