HR 3261, or the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is currently being considered in the US congress.  Like most legislation that deals with the Internet, it comes with a certain amount of controversy.

At its heart, the bill is designed to help prevent the illegal distribution of intellectual property – music, movies, software, books, periodicals and so on.  Even today the notion of copying media is still somehow not perceived as stealing by many people.  While walking in to a bookstore or music store and taking something without paying for it is clearly understood to be stealing, many people don’t consider the download of the same material to be illegal.  It is.  Regardless of the legality – when people stop to think about it – they realize that it is morally wrong.

Some people believe that the commercial world should be left to deal with the problem.  Indeed, SafeNet as an enterprise very much is involved in commercial solutions against this problem.  However this does not mean that Government should not also be involved.  Governments create and maintain police forces and a system of courts and legal process to deal with crime – and design and implement legislation to prevent and impede illegal activity in the physical world.  It seems entirely appropriate therefore to do the same in the electronic world.  This is what SOPA intends.

You will find online petitions supported by Google, Yahoo and others that are in support of the aims of the bill – but largely against the measures proposed within them.  SafeNet has contributed to the debate on the bill through our membership of the SIIA (Software and Information Industry Association).  The SIIA is an association for industries that create digital content – and as one function – lobbies on behalf of its members.  Like the Internet giants, the SIIA is in support of the aims of the bill.  The SIIA, while having some concerns and making some suggestions on parts of the bill, largely supports the measures being suggested by the bill.

Here is a link to the bill and a link to the positions stated by Yahoo, Google and others.  In short the bill places some burden on providers of web services (search engines, ISPs etc.) to implement measures to impede the distribution of illegal content.  This would mean that these services would have to take action to detect and remove or block access to obviously pirated content.

Under section 102 of SOPA, once the court issues an order the Attorney General may (with the court’s consent) serve the order on service providers, search engines, payment providers and advertising services.  Upon receipt of the order, service providers would be required to “prevent the domain name [of the rogue website] from resolving to that domain name’s Internet Protocol address;”  search engines would be required to “prevent the [rogue website], or a portion of such site from being served as a direct hypertext link;”  payment processors would be required to “prevent, prohibit, or suspend its service from completing payment transactions…;” and ad services would also be required to terminate their business relationship with the rogue website.  These are extremely valuable tools because neither payment processors or ad services are covered by the notice and takedown provisions in section 512 of the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) and, although service providers are covered by section 512 of the DMCA, the DMCA would not require them to prevent the domain name of the rogue website from resolving to that domain name’s Internet Protocol address.

For your information, Mastercard, Visa and some other payment providers already have voluntary systems in place to delist entities that process payments through their networks in order to profit from trade in counterfeit goods.

This legislation, like many others, is not intended to be a panacea for the entire piracy problem – and, of course, it would act in combination with other legislation – such as the DMCA.  For example, Google already provides a mechanism for rights holders to submit requests for removal from the search engine of sites that infringe the holders’ copyright.  Today the DMCA does not provide guidelines in how quickly such a request must be addressed – but SOPA suggests 5 days.  Not all internet providers offer such a service.

Together these acts, and no doubt others in the future, in combination with commercial solutions such as those provided by SafeNet will continue to inhibit and impede the profits and economies based on trade in counterfeit material.

Thanks for reading – Chris