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SOPA - Is it right?

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Adam Mossoff's essay on SOPA has been bootlegged on the internet, if you like irony. I'm against this practice, so I won't provide a link, but he basically doesn't discuss much about the bill itself, but talks against those who say it will break the internet and doesn't have any due process for shutting down websites. He does, however, agree that it is vague and subject to abuse due to the vagueness. He says he is ambivalent about that, but I think the vagueness makes it non-objective law. Ironically, the three blogs he references for a professor Boyden demonstrates that it is a non-objective law, and yet he booted me out of his circle because I wrote that it was a non-objective law similar to ObamaCare that would require interpretation and may lead to a Congressional subcommittee to be more specific and possibly even an Internet Czar to make it more clear. In other words, I think the logical outcome of such vague laws is a further bureaucracy, which we don't need regarding the internet. He also warns Objectivists not to quote from sources that are against SOPA on anti-IP grounds, as this will lead to confusion on the part of the public regarding our support for IP laws and protections. But he does not analyze the bill in any detail at all, so I was dissapointed.

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I've read over parts of the bill, and it refers too much to current law for me to fully understand how the application of copyright law would fit into SOPA, but it is not as wide sweeping as I originally thought (give what I had read about rather than having read it). Looks like domain name registries, search engines, and advertisers would have to prevent linking to the offending sites, but it is unclear if this would apply to any website that had a link to an offending website. The problem is, as far as I can tell, specific penalties for not complying with the court order to remove links is not in the sections stating the order given. Are the penalties for non-compliance listed somewhere? Maybe I just don't know how to read law code, but shouldn't there be a reference in the bill to sections on penalties for non-compliance?

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OK, I guess I am a bit slow. In Adam Mossoff's essay on SOPA, he refers to a blog entry regarding SOPA and penalties for non-compliance -- and there aren't any! The legal expert blogger thinks this is truely bizzarre and is not sure what it is all about, though he thinks this will simply give copyright holders another catch for bringing a law suit against the domestic offenders who aid in the trafficicking of stolen works by linking to foreign offending websites, linked to in their websites as advertisements. In other words, if they give the five day take-down notice, they can use that in a court of law to say they contacted the domestic offending website. What is the point of having a law for which there are no penalties for non-compliance? It definitely makes it totally non-objective, but what are they up to?

http://law.marquette.edu/facultyblog/2011/11/28/two-flaws-in-the-sopa/

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The more I look into SOPA, the more I dislike it -- I am so glad it was defeated. With no explicit penalties identified for non-complicance of a take down the link notification, I think the intention was to leave it up to the courts to decide on the penalties; making it totally non-objective, as one wouldn't know until a trial what penalties might be involved or what some judge might decide or some jury might decide. This is totally non-objective, and as Miss Rand points out in her entires on non-objective law, the power of dictatorship comes from non-specific laws that can be interpreted anyway the government wants to interpret them. I cannot imagine an Objectivisit IP professor or law student or lawyer being in favor of such vague laws that can mean anything to anyone!

http://www.appliedphilosophyonline.com/laws_must_be_specific_to_preserve_freedom.htm

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More spelling mistakes in the above...anyone have any idea why the Firefox spell-checker does not work on oo.net entries / text inputs? It works for everything else I can put text into, but not here for some reason.

I was wondering that the other day, but it had been a long time since I posted here, so I couldn't remember if there was ever spell checking or not. I tend to agree with everything you have said recently about the bill, and I too am glad that it wasn't passed as originally written. However, I am disappointed that the bill has been shelved, and saddened that congressmen ran with their tails tucked between their legs, most likely due to public outrage rather than anything of substance. There needs to be debate and new laws to protect intellectual property, and the sooner such law is passed the better it will be for IP holders.

Concerning Adam Mossoff's warning to Objectivsts, I think he meant more than what you summarized. An important point that I believe he was trying to make was that the advocates against SOPA are by and large anti-IP in general, and to take their assumptions on face value is wrong. For example, the EFF has never been on the right side of IP protection. Additionally, comparisons of SOPA to Chinese and Egyptian style internet censorship is patently wrong, overboard, and misleading. To equate SOPA with such censorship is to marginalize an extremely important issue of institutionalized censorship and rights violations, making a mockery of a serious issue. The warning went to remind Objectivists that we are for the protection of IP, while much of the anti-SOPA advocacy was spurred on by anti-IP crusaders, and to take analysis from such people will lead to some very misguided assumptions and statements.

Edited by RussK
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Thanks, SN, your spell-checking advise was helpful, though it took a while to figure out. Only started to malfunction recently.

Look, I fully agree that IP needs to be protected on the internet, and even said so in my original protest against SOPA:

"And it also means that the government must protect said speech from those who would steal it and present it as their own creations. This means that the US Government, in its effort to protect free speech, must stop on-line piracy – the willful posting of material that is not owned by the person posting it (aside from “fair use” standards of small portions). It goes both ways – the individual has the right to speak his mind and a right to keep what is his, and the American government must protect both the author and the authorship / ownership of that product."

So I was not against SOPA because it was trying to prevent online piracy, and I do agree that if new law is necessary, then we ought to have a law that protects private property (including IP) on the internet. I just don't think SOPA went about it the right way (going after third party facilitators instead of the original source) and it was too vague and could have covered every single website with a link to rouge sites without specifying the punishment for not removing said links.

There was a lot of misinformation about SOPA out there, and, yes, it could have been presented by the anti-IP crowd -- who do consider it to be censorship not to be permitted to use other people's work in full or in part. I fell for some of those reports and fell for the idea that SOPA was outright censorship, which it isn't. In fact, at the very beginning of the bill it states that nothing in the bill overrides First Amendment considerations. My bad for not doing more research before writing my protest letter, but I didn't find out about the protest until the last minute and only did hurried look-ups on the internet about the bill. Nonetheless, SOPA, in its current ambiguous form with no explicitly stated punishments, had to be defeated.

And we definitely do need to be on the look-out for unnecessary government intrusion on the internet, via bureaucracy giving commands about how the internet ought to function or regulations concerning what can be posted to the internet. Protect IP, yes, indeed, but not by the government taking control of the internet, which I still think SOPA was trying to do by attempting to regulate basic functions on the internet (like search engines, IP protocol, Domain Name Registries, etc.). They were attempting to erase rouge sites from the internet, but the internet is primarily private property (including the infrastructures) and needs to be left alone. The only real way to solve the problem is to get foreign governments to take down infringing websites in the name of protecting private property, but I cannot see our government taking that stance (since they violate private property and don't have it as an ideal themselves), and because the primary offenders are Russia and China who do not recognize private property anyhow. But a proper State Department would put pressure on them to uphold private property rights on the internet and elsewhere.

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the US Government, in its effort to protect free speech, must stop on-line piracy

I don't think that's a good way to put it. That would be like saying "the government must stop crime". Critics will just retort: it's impossible to stop it all. Criminals will always find a way.

Instead, at this point, a more realistic goal should be to have the government stop websites dedicated to out in the open, large scale piracy.

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I don't think you understand what they were trying to do. The primary focus of SOPA was foreign piracy of American IP on the internet. However, they cannot shut down those websites (like they did recently with megaupload.com) because they are outside of US jurisdiction -- basically, they claim they cannot do anything about foreign sites. So, what SOPA targeted were third party facilitators of foreign online piracy -- but preventing links, domain registration catalogs, and IP addresses run by American companies. Trouble is it would make practically any website with a link to a rouge site responsible for the claims and practices of their advertisers (newspaper are not held to this standard). And every search engine out there would have to not link to them in a search, which means that the government would have to provide a database of sites they wanted to de-list. It was an outright attempt to assert far too much authority over private businesses and personal websites. I'm not against them shutting down rouge US websites that are involved in piracy, but to basically and potentially go after everything on the web is going too far.

What I would suggest is that they find a way to target those foreign rouge websites, but that would require a rational State Department that would put pressure on foreign governments to shut down the private property violating websites in foreign countries, which they are unwilling to do. Instead,they prefer to take over basic functions of the internet. But, it is the province of a proper government to go after criminals (those who violate individual rights), and no, they cannot catch everyone, but that is their primary job; and here they were skirting their responsibilities.

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So, what SOPA targeted were third party facilitators of foreign online piracy -- but preventing links, domain registration catalogs, and IP addresses run by American companies. Trouble is it would make practically any website with a link to a rouge site responsible for the claims and practices of their advertisers (newspaper are not held to this standard).

Newspapers don't contain links. So you'll have to specify the standard you are referring to.

I'm not against them shutting down rouge US websites that are involved in piracy, but to basically and potentially go after everything on the web is going too far.

Please prove that SOPA would allow the government to go after everything on the web. Here are three sites, off the top of my head, on the web, that I'm disputing the government could go after using SOPA:

MLB.com

disney.com

forum.objectivismonline.com

What I would suggest is that they find a way to target those foreign rouge websites, but that would require a rational State Department that would put pressure on foreign governments to shut down the private property violating websites in foreign countries, which they are unwilling to do.

Pressure how, beyond what is being done now? Should we threaten war or economic sanctions against Sweden, if they don't shut down Piratebay?

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I overreached a bit when I said they could go after anyone on the web; however, yes they could go after www.objectivismonline.net as a third party facilitator of online piracy because David has a search engine designated on his home page that can search the web. In his case, it is Google, but if google refused to remove links to foreign pirate sites and oo.net links to them via the search the web feature, then yes, a prosecutor could come after him under SOPA. I did a quick search for the websites you listed, and as far as I can tell, they don't have a search the web feature on their search engines. And I couldn't find a website that Adam Mossoff put up, aside from professional ones associated with the university he teaches at, and they do not have a search the web feature.

The point is that search engines are almost ubiquitous on the internet, and if you have one that can search the web, then you are accountable for the search results according to SOPA. Whether or not that would apply to an internal search engine (say for oo.net, 4aynrandfans, capitalismmagazine) that might bring up a link to a discussion of a foreign rouge website that has a link to that rouge sight is an open question, because the law was so broad (it said search engines that bring up the results that lead to rouge sites would be held responsible for the search results leading to rouge websites). And since they did not specify a punishment, it could be anything some Federal prosecutor wanted to try to ram through the courts.

I'm all for curbing piracy on the web, but going after search results requires near omniscience on the part of the search engine. As to what we can do about it without violating the rights of Americans, if the American government took a no-holds barred fight for property rights and said so explicitly on principle and that any violations of the individual rights of American citizens would be punished, that would go a long ways in solving the problem. A strong stance on principle with the power to back it up would get foreign governments to think twice before letting online piracy continue. Should we go to war over the issue? I don't really think that would be necessary, but in the extreme, certainly. Or at least find a way to target and destroy those foreign websites the way we would target any international criminal harming Americans.

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I overreached a bit when I said they could go after anyone on the web; however, yes they could go after www.objectivismonline.net as a third party facilitator of online piracy because David has a search engine designated on his home page that can search the web. In his case, it is Google, but if google refused to remove links to foreign pirate sites and oo.net links to them via the search the web feature

I'm gonna stop you right there. Google won't refuse to do that. So the government won't be able to go after oo.net.

Your statement is akin to saying "they can use murder laws to go after everyone". For instance, if you murder someone, they can go after you. Except that I don't plan on murdering someone. And Google doesn't plan on defying a court order targeted at websites dedicated to piracy.

The point is that search engines are almost ubiquitous on the internet, and if you have one that can search the web, then you are accountable for the search results according to SOPA.

...

I'm all for curbing piracy on the web, but going after search results requires near omniscience on the part of the search engine.

Where does it say that? My understanding is that a Court can order specific websites to be taken out of search results. Not that search engines have to be all knowing and find those sites by themselves.

Should we go to war over the issue? I don't really think that would be necessary, but in the extreme, certainly. Or at least find a way to target and destroy those foreign websites the way we would target any international criminal harming Americans.

A war, or any kind of military engagement with China or Russia (the two countries most involved with piracy) would result in the destruction of the life and property of most people on the planet. And it would all happen without any kind of process, let alone a full blown trial. How is that appropriate, while a court order banning specific websites isn't?

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Actually, SOPA was rather unclear on who would provide the take-down notice -- it could be just about anyone concerned that some foreign website is violating their IP. So, Google would receive thousands of such requests on a daily basis and they are supposed to delist those websites within five days. There are no provisions for any kind of proof of piracy on the part of any of those websites -- just the say-so of the letter writer. If you can't see where this would cause havoc throughout the internet, then you haven't thought it through very well. As to the possibility that SOPA was referring to a court order to delist websites, again without evidence or proof of piracy, then this puts arbitrary power in the hands of the government who could make the demand to delist a website without having to demonstrate anything to the search engine. If this is not a government take-over of search engines, I don't know what is.

As to going to war with China or Russia, it is something we should have done before they became a military powerhouse back when they first became communistic. However, I don't think war would be required to curb piracy in those countries. Like I said, a principled stance to protect the private property of American citizens and a willingness to show that the government means it, would go along ways. But I don't think the socialists in our government are prepared to take a principled stance to protect private property, considering the fact that they violate it all of the time on their own US citizens.

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Actually, SOPA was rather unclear on who would provide the take-down notice -- it could be just about anyone concerned that some foreign website is violating their IP. So, Google would receive thousands of such requests on a daily basis and they are supposed to delist those websites within five days.

Really? So if I were to write google about CNN.com, they would have to de-list it within five days?

My understanding is that it would take a court order to force google to de-list anything.

As to going to war with China or Russia, it is something we should have done before they became a military powerhouse back when they first became communistic. However, I don't think war would be required to curb piracy in those countries.

What would be required then? I asked this before, and you only specified one concrete thing: war.

Beyond that, you said " a strong stance on principle with the power to back it up", and "find a way to target and destroy those foreign websites". Neither of these is specific enough to tell me what it is you want them to do.

Edited by Nicky
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Thomas:

Court orders are the instrument that would have been used to prompt domestic web services (search, advertisement, and financial) to stop doing business with the foreign internet site, primarily through de-listing. Google would have to filter their results, advertisers would have to de-list sites and would be prevented from providing monetary rewards, and transactional services would be told to stop assisting the site and its patrons. All of these options would provide great resources in dealing with the foreign infringing sites.

One problem, however, which you refer to, is that no penalty had yet been introduced for domestic sites that refused to comply with the court order. Adam Mossoff and one of the articles he listed in his facebook note discussed this problem, one which seems like a strange omission; but then again, the bill was still being worked on. Once the atmosphere clears out a little, with election day having passed, congress can go back to the drawing board--hopefully not completely--and discuss what form of punishment would be appropriate to domestic operators.

I also came to the discussion late. I had heard about SOPA months ago while on the phone with someone, but I didn't even know what the person was talking about. Then came a wave of discussion on a few Objectivist sites, Wikipedia's actions, and my twitter and facebook getting blown up to make me want to become much more informed. With so many people advocating for something in the same terms, plus the idea that the masses on the internet tend to easily get behind a cause, I became suspicious real quick. At that point, I located the bill online and read it, which prompted me to post a few comments here and elsewhere.

Maybe the drama of the Black-out day would have been vastly different had those that want to protect intellectual property been educated about the legislation. I recently read an article, I think it was in NY Mag, where the writer was advocating for intellectual property protection, and he blamed the entertainment industry for what eventually turned into the fiasco surrounding SOPA. Essentially, he said that had the entertainment industry not been so quick with pushing the bill toward approval, and actually put some time and effort into informing the public, the situation wouldn't have gotten so out of hand.

Edited by RussK
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No, Nicky, you don't understand. If you own intellectual property and it is being bootlegged via some foreign site, then you could effectively get search engines, etc. to delist the offending website. I'm not sure I agree that it would be a court order, given my reading of the bill; though I guess a court order could be had against them if they did not do the delisting. Currently, if you are an IP holder, and it gets violated on a domestic site, then you can write them a letter and have them take it down within five days or they could face future prosecution. I'm not sure SOPA would have operated the same way or not, though Boyden, who Mossoff references, is under the opinion it would have worked that way. In order to avoid further litigation, search engines may well have taken the attitude that receiving a complaint was enough not to get into legal trouble and would have done the delisting (basically, YouTube does this if one can prove to them that one is the IP holder). But the bill as written was not clear on these points, which is one reason it had to be protested. I'm glad it was killed.

Let me put it this way. If someone puts up a website soliciting murder, and Google picks it up and lists it in a search query, should Google be held as an accomplice in the attempted murder? I don't think so. In general, I think holding search engines legally responsible for listing websites is not an act of justice; no more than one could hold a newspaper accountable if someone places an add stating the address and phone number of a den of crooks who deal in stolen merchandise.

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As a further answer, I'm not sure how international crime syndicates are handled in the specifics. I know there are means of going after foreign criminals who have committed crimes against American citizens, but I'm not really sure how they operate. So, I think there are avenues other than war. In other words, I'm not sure if an association like Interpol could do the job or not. I'm certainly not concerned with the rights of the pirates, any more than I am concerned with the rights of the Somali pirates who take control of ships on the sea. In the case of those pirates, kill them and be done with it; as to foreign piracy of IP, we can't just kill them, but maybe we could target their website via government action and do a denial of service attack.

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As a further answer, I'm not sure how international crime syndicates are handled in the specifics. I know there are means of going after foreign criminals who have committed crimes against American citizens, but I'm not really sure how they operate. So, I think there are avenues other than war. In other words, I'm not sure if an association like Interpol could do the job or not. I'm certainly not concerned with the rights of the pirates, any more than I am concerned with the rights of the Somali pirates who take control of ships on the sea. In the case of those pirates, kill them and be done with it; as to foreign piracy of IP, we can't just kill them, but maybe we could target their website via government action and do a denial of service attack.

I don't remember anything in the bill about dealing with crime organizations, and I don't think there is really any place for that in such a bill. All the laws referenced in the bill, to be applied to foreign infringing sites, are already on the books and U.S. citizens are already subject to them. The bill primarily focused on shutting down sites outside the purview of U.S. court actions, and, particularly, residing in countries that don't respect intellectual property.

You are absolutely correct in that there are options other than war. There has been long standing respect for intellectual property between countries, particularly between the West, through treaties. The biotech and pharmaceutical industries are excellent examples of such treaties in action; without it, development would have been severely hampered. For example, the United States will respect the rights of UK giants GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca. Examples of international intellectual property protection treaties are provided by the Paris Convention and TRIPS agreement. Of course, there are countries that don't respect intellectual property, and that is where legislation like SOPA becomes a much needed and extremely useful option.

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But the attempt to erase foreign rouge sites from the internet by making search engines, IP assigners, and domain name registrars third party facilitators of online piracy and international crime is immoral, in my opinion. None of these services is involved in the transfer of stolen goods to American thieves -- they just assign addresses or list addresses of such foreign sites. It would be like holding the phone book as an accessory to the crime for listing the name and address of a warehouse dedicated to the storage and selling of stolen goods. I also find it interesting that SOPA took no action against the servers who were actually involved in the transfer directly from the pirate site to the end user. I don't think the servers ought to be held accountable any more than the owner of a private road used for the transfer of stolen goods is held responsible. There are limits of liability; and Google and other search engines are not responsible for the content or the actions of rouge websites.

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Just watched a Front Page video interview of Don Watkins and Terry Jones on SOPA, and both agreed that it was bad law as written, though they both agree that something has to be done about international piracy of American individual's intellectual property. Don said that the issue is complicated because current IP laws are very complicated. However, since we are talking about the necessity of ordinary American citizens understanding the law when it comes to IP on the internet, I think we need some sort of clarification and plain language in the law. Otherwise, one would have to be an IP Law Professor to have a clue as to what is legal and what is illegal on the internet. One should know with clear certainty that bootlegging Avatar on the internet is illegal as well as downloading it from a rouge website. And the law needs to be clear on what the penalties are for partaking in such activities.

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How SOPA concerns search engines, when it comes to the listing of foreign infringing sites, is a question that is much more difficult to deal with than questions concerning whether or not it is proper to stop advertisement revenue and money transfer services. In fact, I've thought about your analogies comparing search engines to newspapers and phone books, and I'm glad you made those points. However, I do disagree with your analysis that it would be wrong to punish a search engine for their involvement. It is wrong to say that search engines will be treated as "third party facilitators of online piracy"; they would only be identified as such until after they had received a court order telling them to de-list a site, and refused to do so--SOPA did not go this in-depth and discussed no penalties for refusing the order.

The court order for de-listing and the prospective treatment of an entity as an accessory, for refusing the order, are far from immoral acts or perversions of justice. When it comes to adverts in a newspaper or listings in a phone book, they too could be held to the same standard. Of course, both newspapers and phone books are much more static than dynamic operations like search engines: a newspaper is published on some short time period, phone books longer. However, if law enforcement learns that an organization is conducting illegal activity, with the assistance of listing in a paper or phone book, the courts could step in. At this point, the service is not an accessory, but if it willingly knows it is providing services for illegal activity, and refuses the courts, they should rightly become an accessory.

I too watched the Don Watkins interview today, after seeing a RT on twitter. I liked what he said and how he framed his answers and future solutions. He made it clear that there was a great overreaction to SOPA, based upon illegitimate concerns, and the people who fueled those concerns have been the same crowd that has been consistently against intellectual property; and his responses were framed in a manner that put the emphasis on intellectual property protection. Unfortunately, in the interview, both Terry Jones and Allen Barton expressed these illegitimate concerns, with Barton going especially overboard. The interview can be found at ARCTV: SOPA on the Ropes?

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I think SOPA was unclear as to it requiring a court order or just a take-down notification from the IP holders. So, saying Google would be disobeying a court order (which they shouldn't do without just cause) is going beyond SOPA. Just as the DMCA is not a court order to take down infringing works on YouTube.

I will say that insofar as a search engine may well know that a certain site is involved in IP violations, they should delist them on *moral* grounds -- I mean, if I ran a search engine, I would not show the links to Pirate Bay in a search result. And if I ran a newspaper, I would not accept ads soliciting illegal activity (based on the standard of individual rights), if it was an explicit ad -- i.e. "Looking for someone to murder my wife! Contact me at ...." I'm just not sure of the *legal* requirements of not listing addresses and phone numbers of businesses that might be involved in the violations of IP or other individual rights -- especially before it has been proven. I will hasten to add that such removals would not be censorship, as one does not have the right to engage in criminal activity nor to promote it, so the FBI shutting down megaupload was not an act of censorship. That was part of the original misunderstanding of SOPA (even on my part) due to confusion on that issue posted by many people.

A way does have to be found to stop online piracy, both domestic and international, but I'm not convinced that SOPA was the solution, and in any regard, it was non-objective and cannot be supported in its current form.

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