Stop SOPA If You Love Your Online Art


I support compliance with intellectual property laws - after all, I am an artist and a creator of "content" that is available on the internet - images of my original oil paintings. I try to appropriately signal my rights with the © symbol. But there is a move afoot that could decimate the online art community and all of our digital freedom through the overreaching efforts of the entertainment industry.

Why should artists care? Isn't this all just about pirated movies and music? Not by a long shot! Read on........

{CURRENT UPDATE BEFORE WE LOOK AT HOW WE GOT HERE - This looks like the end of the beginning for PIPA/SOPA, as Harry Reid tweets that "In light of recent events, I have decided to postpone Tuesday's vote on the PROTECT IP Act." Great job netizens!}

By now you may have heard something about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA), the bills introduced in the U.S. Congress that want to cripple your internet. But I don't see many other ART bloggers or commenters piping up about it so I will.



Here's a little of the flavor of what it's all about (if you already are on top of this intro material skip to the next heading, What's So Bad..., or What Is DNS Blocking..., or if all you want to know is how to help defeat it, skip on even further down to the end),

What SOPA and PIPA do

Here's what the government can do to foreign websites under even the most narrow reading of SOPA section 102 and PIPA section 3:
  1. -Order internet service providers to alter their DNS servers from resolving the domain names of websites in foreign countries that host illegal copies of videos, songs, and photos.
  2. -Order search engines like Google to modify search results to exclude foreign websites that host illegally copied material.
  3. -Order payment providers like PayPal to shut down the payment accounts of foreign websites that host illegally copied material.
  4. -Order ad services like Google's AdSense to refuse any ads or payment from foreign sites that host illegally copied content.
(These rules don't apply to domains that end in .com, .net, and .org, which fall under US law — the government has been seizing US domains used for piracy since 2010, and just seized 150 domains last month.)

That's just the first part. SOPA section 103 and PIPA section 4 require payment processors and ad networks to shut down accounts if they receive the right kind of letter from a copyright owner — a system modeled on the heavily criticized notice-and-takedown provisions of the current Digital Millenium Copyright Act that requires a service like YouTube to pull down infringing content after the copyright owner complains. That system has been abused on occasion, but it ultimately works because it allows YouTube to avoid direct responsibility for the actions of its users — it would have been otherwise sued out of existence.

Oh, but it gets worse. Much worse. SOPA section 104 offers legal immunity to ISPs that independently block websites that host allegedly illegally copied material without any prompting from the government. That's a major conflict of interest for a huge ISP like Comcast, which also owns NBC — there would be nothing stopping Comcast from blocking a foreign video service that competes with NBC if it could claim it had a "reasonable belief" it was "dedicated to the theft of US property." And indeed, Comcast is among the companies that support SOPA.

Now, you may have noticed that while all these rules are totally insane, they're all at least theoretically restricted to foreign sites — defined by SOPA as sites with servers located outside the US. That's important to know: at its simplest level, SOPA is a kneejerk reaction to the fundamental nature of the internet, which was explicitly designed to ignore outmoded and inconvenient concepts like the continuing existence of the United States. Because US copyright holders generally can't drag a foreign web site into US courts to get them to stop stealing and distributing their work, SOPA allows them to go after the ISPs, ad networks, and payment processors that are in the United States. It is a law borne of the blind logic of revenge: the movie studios can't punish the real pirates, so they are attacking the web itself instead.

These bills, and the enforcement philosophy that underlies them, represent a dramatic retreat from this country’s tradition of leadership in supporting the free exchange of information and ideas on the Internet. At a time when many foreign governments have dramatically stepped up their efforts to censor Internet communications, these bills would incorporate into U.S. law a principle more closely associated with those repressive regimes: a right to insist on the removal of content from the global Internet, regardless of where it may have originated or be located, in service of the exigencies of domestic law.

Now, for a more entertaining look at SOPA, take a gander over at the Young Turks on YouTube:




And here is the always entertaining Steven Colbert with a SOPA debate clip where music manager Danny Goldberg defends Internet piracy laws, and Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain doesn't want Justin Bieber to go to jail for copyright infringement,


The Colbert Report Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Stop Online Piracy Act - Danny Goldberg & Jonathan Zittrain
www.colbertnation.com

Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive

What's so bad about SOPA anyway?

None other than Google's Sergey Brin, says SOPA would put the US "on par with most oppressive nations in the world." We're talking about the internet policies of China, Iran, and North Korea here, gang. Great club for the U.S. to join, eh?

ESET's Andrew Lee makes this point in an article about SOPA and the GoDaddy debacle (more on the GoDaddy subplot here and how Wikipedia pulled its domain names off GoDaddy here):
Stopping or reducing piracy is a good aim, and it's one ESET will always support, it's just that the target of SOPA is wrong. What we truly risk if SOPA passes is that America becomes an Internet backwater, where things look materially different to people here than they do for the rest of the world. This will inevitably affect businesses and that's just bad for our economy as a whole.

This risk is best summed up by Representative Jared Polis (D. Col)

"Instead of closing down and arresting everyone in a crack house, it's like changing all the street signs and roads so that it's a lot more difficult to find the crack house. But it's still there and if you try hard enough, you can find it. It also messes everyone else up, making places much harder to find for everyone else"

My analogy would be that SOPA's DNS provision is just like David Copperfield hiding the Statue of Liberty, everyone knows that the statue is still there, but from where you're standing, you're under the illusion that it's disappeared, and the rest of the world, standing outside of the illusion zone can still see it. Indeed, SOPA really is about hiding liberty for Americans, while pretending to the outside world that she's still there holding up her shiny torch for the rest of the world.
Here is a link to a CNET FAQ article, How SOPA Would Affect You, that continues to be updated frequently.

What is DNS blocking?

This current version of the legislation would work through DNS blocking. What is that? DNS blocking or filtering is a common method of denying access to certain websites. Here's how it works.

Each website is hosted on a web server that has a IP address. For example, the IP address for Facebook is 69.63.189.16. If you type those numbers in your web browser, you will arrive at Facebook’s website. Try it – http://69.63.189.16/.

However, IP addresses are not very user friendly. It’s easier to remember facebook.com than 69.63.189.16 isn’t it? Therefore the inventors of the internet also created a phone book called the Domain Name System, or DNS.

The DNS translates domain names into IP addresses so that you don’t have to remember random strings of numbers. Each ISP (e.g. Comcast, P1, etc) has its own DNS servers that function as phone books for its subscribers.

Whenever you type a website address into your browser, your browser first asks the ISP’s phone book what the IP address for that website. Once it’s figured out the IP address it will then load the website for you.

With DNS blocking, the ISP is simply removing the record for the blocked websites from their phone book. So when you try to load one of the blocked websites, all you get is a blank screen in your browser because it doesn’t know what the IP address is.

How Did We Get Here?

Here is a short video clip from Public Knowledge describing how it all started and how we got to where we are today,




 

DNS Dodgeball - How to Defeat SOPA DNS Blocking

Here is the first of what will probably be many, and hopefully endless, creative ways to bypass or defeat DNS blocking if SOPA does become law. And if you need any other excuse to switch to the Firefox browser, and even make a small donation to the open source community, read on.

You can get a Firefox add-on right now. A developer who calls himself T Rizk doesn't have much faith in Congress making the right decision on the Act, so he's built a work-around for the impending censorship measures being considered: DeSOPA. The Firefox add-on is stunningly simple as the SOPA would function by authorizing and requiring ISPs to block specific domain names (e.g. www.thepiratebay.com) of allegedly infringing sites. When turned on, DeSopa intercepts URLs, sends the base URL to three offshore DNS services via HTTP, makes a best effort to check that two of them are equivalent, caches the IP for the browser session, redirects to the equivalent URL using the IP, and substitutes out the domain name in the source code with the IP address for future requests.

Firefox, which already boasts an outspoken stance against SOPA, and has already shown they are willing to stand by add-on developers who create circumvention extensions designed to go around measures currently employed by Homeland Security, has welcomed a new add-on, one that is designed to circumvent whatever SOPA website blacklists that are created, provided the bill becomes law.

And Google Chrome users should check out MAFIAAFire Redirector, which will intercept any domain names typed into your address bar and load via the site's numeric IP address instead. Firefox users can get the same addon under the name MAFIAAFire ThePirateBay Dancing, which is somewhat more complicated than DeSOPA. MAFFIAFire works by automatically directing you to a proxy site which loads the "blocked site". To the powers that be, who want to stop you, from "seeing" a particular site, it just looks like you are visiting a proxy site... not the blocked site.

It is theoretically possible for Big Brother to try to block proxy sites too, but the proxies used by MAFIAAFire are public and randomly selected; there are thousands of such proxies listed on various sites, if they want to go down that censorship route it'd be like playing whack a mole with thousands of machines and one stick.

But you better get DeSOPA and TOR while you can because SOPA itself could make that illegal. In this interesting article, CNET's , points out that a little noticed provision of the bill allows:
...injunctions to be filed against "any" person, nonprofit organization, or company that distributes a "product or service" that can be used to circumvent or bypass blockades erected against alleged pirate Web sites such as ThePirateBay.org.

The U.S. government-funded Tor Project could be a target of SOPA's anti-circumvention section.

"It looks like SOPA would outlaw Tor," says Markham Erickson, an attorney with Holch & Erickson LLP who runs NetCoalition. The trade association opposes SOPA and counts Amazon.com, eBay, Google, and Yahoo among its members.

This section of SOPA is straightforward enough: a copyright holder would contact the U.S. Department of Justice to complain that a Web site is engaged in piracy. Then the Justice Department would seek a court order from a federal judge that would compel U.S.-based Internet service providers and domain name system providers to render the target inaccessible.

But SOPA's author, Rep. Lamar Smith, a conservative Texan who has become Hollywood's favorite Republican, anticipated that savvy programmers would find a way around these virtual roadblocks. So Smith inserted language in SOPA (PDF) -- it's not in the Senate's similar Protect IP bill -- allowing anyone who knowingly and willfully distributes "circumvention" software to be forced to remove it. (See CNET's FAQ on SOPA.)

"I worry that it is vague enough, and the intention to prevent tunneling around court-ordered restrictions clear enough, that courts will bend over backwards to find a violation," says Mark Lemley, a professor at Stanford Law School who specializes in intellectual property law.

Smith's anti-circumvention language appears designed to target software such as MAFIAAFire, the Firefox add-on that bypassed domain seizures, and ThePirateBay Dancing and Tamer Rizk's DeSOPA add-ons, which take a similar approach. (As CNET reported in May, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has tried, unsuccessfully so far, to remove MAFIAAFire from the Web.)

But Smith worded SOPA broadly enough that the anti-circumvention language isn't limited to Firefox add-ons. In an echo of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act's anti-circumvention section, SOPA targets anyone who "knowingly and willfully provides or offers to provide a product or service designed or marketed by such entity...for the circumvention or bypassing" of a Justice Department-erected blockade.
BUT as SOPA is presently worded, it would still be perfectly legal to OWN or POSSESS any circumvention product such as a plugin or other software. So go get 'em now because people like the DeSOPA plugin writer can be shut down and jailed if SOPA passes.

Stop SOPA Before You Need To Circumvent It -Who Supports SOPA?

Not sure if your congressperson supports SOPA/PIPA? You may be surprised at how little support or opposition has to do with traditional political parties and Democratic/Republican labels. SOPA Track is a web site that can help you find out and keep track of the activity of the politicians regarding the bills. It can use location tracking to provide the information automatically, or you can look them up by state or search using your address. Doing so will provide you with the names of your representatives, their stance on SOPA/PIPA, how much money they've raised from relevant groups, and several ways you can call them to voice your opinion on the matter. Even if they share your views, it's worth making a call or sending a message to thank them as it's always possible for their minds to change.

Google Chrome users can pick up the No SOPA extension which reveals which sites support SOPA when visiting them using that browser. If you're interested in writing a letter to supporters, boycotting their sites, or simply be aware of their support, this extension can help with identification.

Here is an article from the Electronic Frontier Foundation analyzing the economic arguments and forces at play in the blacklist legislation.

Go to Stop American Censorship for more information and a bunch of ways you can take action quickly, easily, and painlessly.

What Next On The Blacklist Legislation?

Now's the time, for you to speak up. Go to Stop American Censorship for more information and a bunch of ways you can take action quickly, easily, and painlessly.
White House signals concerns with anti-piracy bills : 'Obama administration officials said in a blog post today that they would 'not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.' The White House did not take a definite position on SOPA and the PROTECT IP Act, but said 'the DNS filtering provisions in some proposed legislation suggests that they pose a real risk to cybersecurity and yet leave contraband goods and services accessible online.' The officials said, however, that legislation is needed to combat online piracy.' http://1.usa.gov/xWaJyM
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