Son of SOPA: The Internet under siege

While attention focuses on the FCC's Net neutrality proposal, SOPA's aims are still being pushed behind the scenes

The fight to preserve an open Internet more and more resembles a giant game of Whac-A-Mole. While everyone is fussing over the FFC's latest proposal to gut Net neutrality, the powers behind SOPA and PIPA -- legislation that died in Congress two years ago in the face of massive protests by Internet users -- continue to pursue their aims in back-room trade negotiations and proposals for copyright reform.

Last November, WikiLeaks released a transcript that blew the lid off secret negotiations that would have enshrined SOPA principals of copyright enforcement into a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. As the Washington Post noted at the time, "The United States appears to be using the non-transparent Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations as a deliberate end run around Congress on intellectual property, to achieve a presumably unpopular set of policy goals."

Not to be denied, President Obama in March nominated Robert Holleyman to the team that's negotiating that TPP trade deal. Holleyman is the former CEO of Business Software Alliance (BSA) and a major lobbyist for SOPA. Sound familiar? Maybe that's because FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is a former lobbyist for the cable industry, which opposes Net neutrality. The foxes truly are in charge of guarding the hen house.

Another fusillade in the war on the open Internet was launched by a group of Congressmen acting as though SOPA had passed. Representatives Bob Goodlatte and Adam Schiff, and Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Orrin Hatch recently sent a letter to the Association of National Advertisers, asking online advertisers to create a blacklist of alleged "piracy sites" and refuse to serve ads to those sites. Too bad such actions probably violate U.S. antitrust laws. As digital rights watchdog Electronic Frontier Foundation points out:

It's disturbing that members of Congress are pressuring ad networks to follow a law that Congress didn't pass, and probably never will. But it's downright shocking for them to ask ad networks that compete with one another to agree amongst themselves that they won't do business with certain websites. That sounds a lot like a "concerted refusal to deal" -- a classic violation of antitrust law.

And a series of hearings before the House Judiciary Committee on copyright reform is essentially presenting SOPA 2.0, rebranded in "notice and stay down" provisions in the DCMA. Going a step beyond takedown notices, it would require that offending works not only be deleted but blocked from every being uploaded again. As TechDirt explains:

This may sound good if you're not very knowledgeable about (a) technology and (b) copyright law. But if you understand either, or both, you quickly realize this is a really, really stupid solution that won't work and will have all sorts of dangerous unintended consequences that harm both creativity and the wider internet itself.

During the hearings, Google's ContentID was repeatedly cited as a proactive system "done right," which will come as a shock to the legions of ContentID critics, including Forbes.com, which wrote in December that "Google is doing something downright despicable" with its YouTube ContentID crackdown. It also ignores the fact that the cost of such a system -- Google spent between $50 million and $60 million to build ContentID -- would "basically guarantee that the few big players who could afford both the technology and the legal liability/insurance over the inevitable lawsuits, would be able to continue hosting user generated content. That's more or less ceding much of the internet to Google and Facebook," TechDirt writes.

This multi-front war demonstrates the determination of organizations like BSA and MPAA/RIAA to force Internet companies to bear responsibility for patrolling and punishing copyright violators. While no one defends genuine copyright piracy, InfoWorld's Robert X. Cringely argues that "service providers shouldn't be forced to police it, we shouldn't have to pay for it, the Net's infrastructure shouldn't be broken to accommodate it, and innocent websites shouldn't have to suffer for it."

In the battle to preserve an open Internet, as in Whac-A-Mole, it's best to stay vigilant.

This story, "Son of SOPA: The Internet under siege," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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