You may have heard about two bills currently being debated in Congress: the misleadingly named Stop Online Piracy Act (or SOPA for short) and Protect IP Act (PIPA). We’re encouraged by the White House’s recent statement refusing to support parts of this legislation that inhibit innovation and take too broad strokes against website owners, but the legislation has not yet been reversed.
To spread the word, we’re including this blog post and a collection of content about SOPA and PIPA in every Stumbler’s stream and encouraging Internet users like you to contact their Members of Congress and tell them to not support these bills.
SOPA, which is currently being considered in the House, purports to protect “prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property.” But this bill, along with the Senate version called PIPA that’s being put up for a vote on January 24, would likely destroy much creativity fostered by the Internet. It could cripple not only StumbleUpon but also other companies that direct users to fantastic content and user-created material. That’s why we’re standing with Google, YouTube, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, Vimeo, Reddit, and many other companies and organizations in opposing this legislation. We believe the future of the Internet depends on this protest.
We at StumbleUpon know our service is only as good as the content available for us to recommend, and that means it’s critical for us that there be a vibrant ecosystem of original content. Thus, protecting artists, musicians, filmmakers and others who contribute to this ecosystem is vital. But we think SOPA takes an overbroad and destructive approach to addressing this problem.
The key problems with SOPA and PIPA, among many, is that these laws would place the burden of proof disproportionately on the alleged copyright violator, who could be anyone from a corporation to a brand new blogger, and introduce the potential for censorship on a federal level.
THE BURDEN OF PROOF PROBLEM
Under SOPA, copyright holders can simply send a notice alleging copyright infringement to payment processors, ad services and hosting providers that many of the most heavily trafficked web sites rely on, who in turn would have five days to suspend their services to the offending sites. Because the mandated response time will prevent these service providers from investigating the legitimacy of any such claim or fine-tuning their response to the allegedly offending page(s), and because these proposed laws would grant legal immunity (for example, from claims of business damage) to these service providers even if the original accusation turns out to be incorrect, they will likely shut off services to entire web sites altogether, effectively shutting down entire business operations. All of this can be done without a judge finding a web site guilty of a crime and without giving that site sufficient time to address the issue themselves. This wouldn’t just be detrimental to large companies, but would likely keep resource-constrained startups from getting off the ground or taking the kinds of risks that lead to innovation and experimentation.
The burden of proof is thus very low for the copyright holder making the claim against a web site or blog. Simply put, the responsibility is shifted disproportionately to the accused without placing enough accountability on the accuser. That’s antithetical to our system of law.
SOPA also drastically penalizes site owners and users who may unknowingly recommend content that may violate copyright. The act removes the “safe harbor” provision that gives companies like StumbleUpon enough notice and time to take action against an individual violating copyright infringement laws. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), passed in 1998, copyright owners must notify a company of supposed infringement and give the company 30 days to investigate and have the content removed. This act is working and its safe harbor provisions have been recently validated by the courts. SOPA would mark a sharp change from this current law, where site owners are protected from civil liability if they take down the content immediately after being notified. What’s more, under SOPA, unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content would be considered a felony, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Site owners would be at risk even if they briefly and unknowingly hosted copyrighted content.
CENSORSHIP AND A STIFLED INTERNET
Additionally, the bills give the attorney general the power to create a blacklist of sites to be blocked by Internet service providers, search engines, payment services, and advertising networks without a court hearing or a trial. This creates a dangerous precedent of the government controlling what we can and can’t see on the Internet. Instead of being an open dialogue of ideas and an information superhighway, the Internet could become a slow-moving, over-censored and bland space, with site owners scrambling to find the resources to keep authorities from shutting down their businesses. This stifled Internet would never foster social revolutions in the Arab world or create the fertile grounds for businesses like StumbleUpon to grow. Frankly, SOPA and PIPA would create a relationship between the government and the technology world that’s a huge step closer to China’s Great Firewall, a nationwide system of censorship.
Below are excellent videos, articles, and web pages explaining the dangers of SOPA and PIPA. We’ll be promoting these and other pages on StumbleUpon over the next several days to better inform people of the dangers of this proposed legislation. We urge you to contact your Member of Congress to insist that he or she stop this damaging legislation today. Currently 80 Senators support SOPA – far more than oppose it.
Keep the Internet Uncensored and Innovative, and Explore More!