Just how bad is this bill? It would probably kill Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, eBay, and YouTube - and possibly Google, too.
Imagine for a moment that you run a website. A website where you let, say, a few dozen people - some friends, some acquaintances, some more-or-less strangers - write about whatever topics matter to them. (You might recognize just such a site, natch.)
Now, let's say one of those people plagiarizes some content. Or, perhaps, posts a few links to a site where people could pirate movies or songs.
What's the correct remedy? After all, protecting the rights of content producers and owners from rip-offs is a good thing.
Well, under the current law, the content owner would contact the owner of the site and ask 'em to take down the offending content. If they refused, the content owner could go "upstream" to the site owner's internet host and make the same request, and so on, up the line. Of course, lawsuits would be threatened. It wouldn't take long before someone would decide that taking down the content would be preferable to a lawsuit.
But under the proposed PIPA and SOPA bills, the content owner wouldn't even have to contact the site owner. In fact, they could run directly to the Justice Department, who would have the power - via court order - to pull the plug on the domain name of the site.
This is a classic example of killing a mosquito with a sledgehammer. Or maybe the appropriate metaphor is killing a mosquito with a box of plastic explosives.
It is, in a single word, censorship. And that's why, despite the co-sponsorship of 40 Senators, Senator Ron Wyden has vowed to "stand on the Senate floor for as long as it takes to lay out why the Internet is so important and what we have got do to change this bill to make sure it remains fair, open and free."
Six months ago, Wyden successfully placed a hold on the bill. But the bill is back, and now he's talking filibuster.
On the floor, Senator Wyden intends to read the names of opponents that sign on at StopCensorship.org - a petition started by Demand Progress. (Haven't heard the latest numbers, but as of noon Monday - just three hours in - the petition was up to 20,000 signers. Update: Early Tuesday morning, the petition cleared the 50,000 signature mark, with several thousand an hour coming in.)
Just how bad is this bill? It would probably kill every site that relies on user-generated content - including Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, eBay, and YouTube. And it may very well stand a chance of shutting down Google and other search engines. And that's why the leaders of all of those companies have issued strong statements of opposition.
Why? Because those sites would be forced to proactively review every single bit of content that enters their system. Rather than relying on reports or complaints to identify offending content, the punishment for failure to review is so draconian that advance review will be required.
And that's just an overwhelming and nearly impossible task. Furthermore, that level of human review would represent an extraordinary violation of personal privacy, unprecedented in its scope and invasiveness. (And what of China? How exactly do we stand against the censorship of the "Great Firewall" if we're building an Internet Blacklist of our own?) (Not to mention that is appears that the technical requirements of this bill would undermine emerging technologies designed to effectively stop viruses, malware, and phishing dead in their tracks.)
Here's to Senator Wyden - standing up for freedom and against censorship. It's fights like these that make me proud to have been associated with him since I was an intern nearly twenty years ago.
(Want to learn more? There's a great summary, chock-a-block with links, at Derek Bambauer's blog on Information Law at Harvard Law School.)