Stop Online Piracy Act Coming Back

January 11, 2012

Today The Official Merchant Services Blog brings you all an update on the Stop Online Piracy Act. This legislation has been picking up traction in the news the past couple of days because it’s become a talking point in the GOP Presidential Nomination race, and because Congress is set to resume discussion of the bill. The bill is up for a vote at the end of the month and will be getting a lot more media heat in the coming weeks.

What is SOPA?

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. ”

You can download a PDF of the bill here.

The Root of Controversy

The bill has been polarizing as the sides that support and the sides that rally against the bill get oversimplified into the entertainment industry and those interests it successfully lobbies for support the bill; the tech and internet industries and those interests they successfully lobby for are against the bill.

The relevant twist for The Official Merchant Services Blog is that the bill includes payment processors. It defines them as Payment Network Providers and includes them in the scope of the bill. The bill holds Payment Network Providers responsible for the content on the websites of its customers and words it so that the Department of Justice can prompt payment processors to suspend processing for sites that get investigated by the DOJ.

At a basic level, this appears fine. A company that is selling pirated material on its site and violating copyrights can get shutdown by this bill. Their transactions can get suspended, Google can be forced to remove it from the search engine, and its page ranking can be destroyed. For the sites out there trafficking in online piracy these measures are extreme and effective. Which would speak to the proposed law’s effectiveness.

Unfortunately, the bill is extremely open-ended. And this is where the anti-SOPA sentiment gets its fuel. Creating a hypothetical that focuses on a merchant processing and small business perspective, here’s what can go wrong with SOPA the way it is currently worded:

  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.

This may seem a bit extreme. But the way most “arguments” or “discussions” can go on the internet, it’s pretty standard fare that stuff like this will happen. And if the DOJ takes a broad stance on this kind of interaction, sites will face interruption based on reports that do not involve full fledged piracy.

What it boils down to is the bill leaves 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 DOJ may or may not be tech savvy enough to navigate this type of abuse.

Recent News on SOPA

Here’s a roundup of the most recent news items that focus on SOPA:

cPanel Writes a Letter

cPanel publishes a general letter to hosting providers speaking out against SOPA. In the letter they state: “While created with the good intentions of combating widespread copyright and trademark infringement, cPanel opposes these bills for a number of reasons due to their impending negative impact on hosting providers around the world.” The company then pledges $5,000 to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has been fighting to preserve individuals’ digital rights since 1990. In addition, for every tweet our hosting providers post with the hash tag #cpanel4antisopa, cPanel will donate an additional $2.50 (up to a total donation to the EFF of $10,000).

WordPress Says No to SOPA

WordPress, the open source giant that powers blogs throughout the internet, took an official stand against SOPA. You can read the article about WordPress and SOPA here. It’s written by  Jane Wells and posted on WordPress News. WordPress is another of a number of companies which now officially oppose SOPA; already FacebookGoogle, Yahoo!, Mozilla, LinkedIn, Twitter, eBay, AOL, and Zyngahave said that they don’t support the bill. The WordPress article is a call to activism among bloggers to organize and take a stand against the bill.

GreenHostIt Joins the Anti-SOPA Side

Hosting firm GreenHostIt released this press release officially announcing their opposition to SOPA. The release quotes company CEO S. Rosendahl as saying: “SOPA, if passed, will infringe on business owners’ rights and diminish that spirit. I really dread getting the court orders that will probably come to us if this proposal passes.” Mirroring much of the analysis Host Merchant Services has given the proposed deal, Rosendahl also comments: “People who operate websites that will be ordered shut down by uncontested applications will be very frustrated and angry, and for good reason.”

Teen Makes SOPA Plea to Santorum

The Washington Post reports that SOPA has become part of the GOP Presidential Nomination race going on right now. Presidential candidate Rick Santorum was approached by a teen in New Hampshire, and as the article states: “A teenage boy implored Santorum to look into the Stop Online Piracy Act, saying a friend of his might go to prison for five years for posting a cover version of a song on the Internet.” The Washington Post determines that due to instances like this the biggest threats to America — or at least the hot topics for American voters — appear to be online piracy, an insidious United Nations and “crony capitalism.”

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