January 20, 2012

When last we posted, The Official Merchant Services Blog was busy highlighting its own in depth coverage of the Stop Online Piracy Act and having a few yuks at the expense of the bill’s sponsor, Lamar Smith [R-TX], for having a web-site that violated the bill he sponsored.

Since then, SOPA has somersaulted into the bright shining spotlight of mainstream media news. There was a blackout sponsored by internet industry giants like Wikipedia, Mozilla and WordPress — the same WordPress that this very blog is constructed out of.

And the protest seems to have had an affect. Congress took notice.

Smith Shelves SOPA

The Los Angeles Times reports: “The SOPA online piracy bill that helped spark this week’s unprecedented Internet protests will be redrafted, its lead sponsor said Friday. The move came shortly after the Senate postponed a key vote on the companion PIPA bill scheduled for next week and amid calls for consensus before Congress moves forward on any legislation to address the problem of foreign piracy websites.”

Bill sponsor Lamar Smith is quoted in various media sources as saying:  “I have heard from the critics and I take seriously their concerns regarding proposed legislation to address the problem of online piracy. It is clear that we need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products.”

So essentially the struggle to craft a bill to curb online piracy is now in a holding pattern.

This should be heartening news for both sides of the issue. Nobody wants online pirates to flourish. So the core of what the bill is intended to do has merit. The criminals do need to be dealt with. But the way the proposed legislation was worded just wasn’t going to work. Going back to the drawing board was needed. No amount of posturing from Chris Dodd was going to change the words of the bill — which Host Merchant Services provides for download right here.

And those words left too much room for abuse, put the Department of Justice at the mercy of internet trolls, and approached the problem from the wrong direction. Online pirates do need to be stopped. But SOPA was not going to do it.

Hackers vs. Hollywood

As the media intensity for this issue skyrocketed, yesterday saw the FBI make a move of its own. A move against online piracy.  The feds shut down the website megaupload.com, as The Hollywood Gossip reports: “Federal prosecutors have pulled the plug on Megaupload, a massive file sharing operation allegedly helmed by Alicia Keys’ husband, producer Swizz Beatz. Four executives were arrested in New Zealand and an indictment charging seven people with content piracy causing $500 million in losses was issued.”

Then hackers fired right back in retaliation. As the Vancouver Sun reports: “Hacktivist collective Anonymous has launched a series of attacks on U.S. government and recording industry websites in response to the takedown of file sharing website MegaUpload. It claims to have taken down 14 websites including the websites for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Motion Picture Association of America and the U.S. Copyright Office. CNN has reported that most of the government websites were back up and running as of Friday morning. However, the websites for both BMI and Universal Music were still down. These sites were taken down by DDoS– Denial of Service–attack, a type of attack that overwhelms site servers and forces them down.”

While this back and forth plays right into the oversimplification of the SOPA story — turning into a Hollywood vs. the Internet battle royale — it doesn’t really further the actual issue. The FBI’s actions were under current laws. And the hacker retaliation was nowhere near as effective as the blackouts and protests and e-mail campaigns run by Google, Wikipedia, WordPress and so many others on the internet.

As sexy as hackers and FBI busts are, they just distract from the story.

Recap the Issue

The bill and its Senate twin Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) have been polarizing because of how open-ended the language of the legislation is. Both bills leave a lot of loopholes available for websites to be griefed by random internet users who may have an agenda against a particular site. And the Department of Justice may or may not be tech savvy enough to navigate their way through the abusive claims to get to the proper crimes. Here’s a hypothetical we’ve posited before:

  1. A small business launches its website.
  2. The site, in an attempt to reach out to its customers has a forum or social media section where its customers can post discussions. The intention of this tool is to create links between the business and the customers.
  3. A poster on that site’s forum/discussion area posts a funny, home-made YouTube video. That video contains copyright infringement.
  4. The YouTube video gets reported for its infringement.
  5. Suddenly the site is under investigation under the purview of SOPA, and now this legitimate business gets its site shut down and its processing suspended. The business can’t make money anymore because of reports related to ancillary content on its site — not actual piracy.


And that’s what has SOPA in dire need of a reboot. Right back to the drawing board with this law. Retool it to focus on stopping online pirates, and remove the language that puts the Department of Justice right in the middle of internet arguments, accusations and trolling as they struggle to determine if millions of sites need to get shut down for mere complaints.

For More Information

We initially posted about the controversy of SOPA with our November 20, 2011 blog.

Host Merchant Services provides an in-depth analysis of SOPA here. It explains the bill: “The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is also known as H.R. 3261. It was introduced in the House of Representatives on October 26, 2011 by Lamar Smith [R-TX] and a bipartisan group of 12 initial co-sponsors. The bill is currently creating a lot of controversy in both the tech sector as well as the credit card processing industry because it expands the ability of U.S. law enforcement as well as copyright holders to fight online trafficking of copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods.

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