SOPA and You…and Me – My Thoughts

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So, I’m gonna go out on a limb here. As I’ve said before, I am NOT a political person. Every time I dive into something political, I end up realizing how politics really work…and it annoys the you-know-what out of me. But let’s talk SOPA ( the Stop Online Piracy Act that everyone is talking about…and blacking out over). I’m just another US citizen and I’ve had a hard time getting to the meat of SOPA. I actually have some understanding of how the internet works and how the internet economy works. I am both a consumer online – and someone who earns money from the internet. Most of you reading my blog here at are in the same boat. So what is SOPA all about? What does SOPA mean to us as online business owners and internet consumers?

First – a disclaimer. I am not a lawyer, or legal professional, or expert or ANYTHING like that. I most likely will get some things I say wrong. Most of what I say is purely my opinion and my interpretation of what’s going on. However, I think this SOPA situation NEEDS more people like you…and like me…getting informed, speaking up, and asking questions.

The majority of this post is from a post I just made in the Wealthy Affiliate forum. That forum is private so our opinions, thoughts, and questions can’t be heard there by anyone OUTSIDE that forum. That’s part of the reason I am more comfortable posting there about many things, but after reading my post in the WA forum today, I realized that I needed to suck it up and post what I think of SOPA….my questions, my interpretation – and then get to what I really want to know – what do YOU think?

We’re the “little guys” in all this, ya know? Where do we fit in when it comes to SOPA? Where is our liability going to fall? And then there’s our rights as consumers and as US citizens. It needs to be talked about and discussed rationally by the people who appear to be the pawns and innocent by-standers in all this.

So let’s talk – let’s try and get heard too.

SOPA – What I Think

This is all so crazy, isn’t it? And I don’t know how many of you are like me, but I have a tough time reading through legal mumbo-jumbo and getting to the guts of it. But I’ve been spending a lot of time doing just that – trying to get a grasp on what is really on the table.

The main concept behind SOPA is this:

“The bill would authorize the U.S. Department of Justice to seek court orders against websites outside U.S. jurisdiction accused of infringing on copyrights, or of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. After delivering a court order, the U.S. Attorney General could require US-directed Internet service providers, ad networks, and payment processors to suspend doing business with sites found to infringe on federal criminal intellectual property laws. The Attorney General could also bar search engines from displaying links to the sites.”

OK- SOPA could Authorize the US Dept. of Justice to seek court orders against websites OUTSIDE the US jurisdiction accused of infringement.

Alright, that makes sense – let’s try to find an example….

So if Joe Blow writes a book. He is a US citizen. He finds some overshores site giving his book away for free. Even tho the US currently has laws in place to handle this if it happens in the US, we apparently need more help reaching offenders that are out of our jurisdiction.

Ok, I get that. I’ve found my stuff online being given away on random overseas file sharing sites – and it is really, really hard to get my stuff removed. I supposed we could use some help with that – especially when I think about how big this problem really is (movies, music, counterfeit drugs and merchandise)

So I get all that – that we just might NEED something to help with this…

BUT, then I stop cold in my tracks when I read the rest of that original quote.

The US could require internet service providers, ad networks, and payment processors to STOP doing business with them AND search engines to stop LINKING to them?

Now, I can SEE some logic behind it, but aren’t we making US businesses (like Google, PayPal, HostGator, etc) responsible for the offenders actions?

Why isn’t the OFFENDER held accountable?

That makes me think back to the SAFE Port Act that Bush signed in October 2006.

The meat of the bill was about increased security for our US ports.

Of COURSE we all wanted that. It was a no-brainer and it sure looked good for Bush to sign that so he could say that he and other Republicans were “Tough on Terrorism” (ironically just weeks away from congressional elections).

Now, what most people DON’T know about that SAFE Port Act that Bush signed is that there was something else tacked onto the end. Something that had NOTHING to do with port security or protecting our country from terrorists.

It was about online gambling and putting more effort into laws to forbid US consumers from participating and putting money into offline gambling sites.

Now, it didn’t make it worse for consumers from a law-standpoint. Instead it made it illegal for banks to ALLOW us consumers to use our credit cards, debit cards, checks, etc to FUND those sites. Yes, they made the banks stop us from using our own money – even if it was for something illegal.

I guess the government decided that is was “easier” to get the banks to babysit us and make them (the banks) accountable AND liable for US citizens getting their money into these online gambling sites than it was to make us individually accountable for our own actions.

Naturally, that SAFE Port Act went through easily – who wanted to be the one to stand up and say “No” to that? What? You DON’T want safer ports? I’m not voting for you! The online gambling “tack on” part of that Act was not enough to stop it from happening or enough reason to give anyone voting on that act reason to “man-up” and say NO. Their career was on the line.

I have to ask – what the heck happened to making the individual accountable for their actions – NOT the ones that might have allowed the actions to take place?

My Problem With SOPA

That’s what my problem is with SOPA – the gov’t wants to make those that allow these infringing sites to get attention and/or needed services to be liable and accountable for the actions of the individual site owner… but NOT hold the individual who is actually committing the crime accountable. That bothers me…AND brings up all the ambiguous language that this SOPA thing has in it that is wildly open to interpretation.

I have a cell phone. The company gave me a phone number and provides the service for me to be able to make and receive phone calls. They never asked me WHAT I plan to do with that phone and they aren’t held accountable for CHECKING on what I am doing. I also don’t think they are LIABLE for what I do with that phone either. If I used that phone to plan a murder or some other crime, will they blame the cell phone company for “allowing” it to happen?

No, of course not – it would be ME that paid the price and goes to jail. I doubt I’ll see my Verizon Rep in the cell next to me…lol!

So why are ISP’s and payment processors in charge of babysitting this great idea these gov’t people are scheming up? (And in all fairness, do these gov’t people really have a deep understanding of how internet technology works in the first place? Heck, I WORK online and I still really grasp at understanding the big picture).

Who Is SOPA Targetting?

Now, I do have to say that the wording of SOPA makes it look as if they are targeting sites outside the US that are “a site dedicated to infringement”. So, to me, that means that the following businesses/people IN the United States could be punished in some way in the following hypothetical situation –

Let’s say there is site outside of the United States that is dedicated to selling counterfeit Nike shoes.

Paypal that enables this site to take orders/receive money? Yes.

HostGator that allows this site to be online? Yes.

Google for allowing that site to be linked to from their organic index? Yes.

Google for allowing that site to buy AdWords PPC ads and display those ads on Google and Google-owned properties? Yes.

Facebook for allowing that site owner to have a fan page and drive traffic to their site? Yes?

Twitter for the same (allowing linking to and sending traffic to that site)? Yes?

The private blog owner who has that Google AdSense ad automatically come up on their site? No?

The private blog owner who has that site owner leave a comment with a link to that infringing site? No?

If I’ve got that right I have to say – that is all kinds of messed up.

And to top it off, the ones with a “yes” next to them – they are also accountable for STOPPING it in the first place?

Does it come down to money (again)? If anyone links to, drives traffic to, hosts, or provides any service for an infringing site and makes money off of it, is that who will be held accountable?

In that case, the blog owner who allows commenting on posts and a person leaves a comment with the infringing site as their website link – are we accountable? We don’t make money off of that link?

But if an AdSense ad shows on our site, we could make money from that ad (if someone clicks it) – but we don’t have any control over the ads Google generates on our site – are we accountable then?

Google makes money from the AdWords PPC ads, but they don’t directly make money from the listings in their organic index – are they accountable for the ads (since they make money from it), but not from the organic listings?

All so confusing – and still leaves me with one big question –

What about the person(s) who actually COMMITTED the infringement?

The only one responsible and accountable is the person(s) doing it.

Am I am really off-base by thinking that way?

So -When You PROFIT From Illegal Activity Online You’re Held Accountable?

Google already got NAILED for allowing ads in their PPC program that advertised pharmaceuticals from Canada. Those ads took US consumers to a site (or sites) that sold “fake” prescription meds and allowed them to order them to have them ship into the US.

Ok, so Google profited from illegal activity and had to pay the price. I can see that.

But then I have to ask – why didn’t UPS or whatever service actually delivered these drugs into the US get nailed with a $500 MILLION dollar settlement like Google did? (or did they? please correct me if I am wrong)

And oddly, the US already has two acts in place that forbids shipments from foreign pharmacies into the US. Why do we need more?

Speaking of Google

I can TOTALLY see why GOOGLE is completely against this. Remember, they not only own Google, but they also own YouTube. This whole SOPA act passing could be a major headache for them.

SOPA means that they would have to “patrol” their search engine index for sites that might meet the terms of being a violating site and stop listing them in their index? How in the world can that be done? Can you imagine policing all THAT content? Yikes!

And WHY? Google isn’t a directory of most-trusted or legitimate sites, are they? No, they are a computer program designed to index all the web pages and documents on the internet (YouTube is another story).

If I find a business in the Yellow Pages and that business rips me off or operates illegally, is Yellow Pages to blame? Are they LIABLE for that company? Should they have KNOWN about that company before they listed them?

Why can’t I make my own mistakes and learn my own lessons when *I* make a choice to deal with a business (whether online or offline) that might rip me off? Why can’t *I* hold that business accountable for what they did to ME? Is it simply because it is natural human tendency to need to blame someone else and hold OTHERS accountable?

The business did it to me – not the Yellow Pages…not Google…not PayPal or HostGator… I took a chance and got burnt.

This is where I get lost with SOPA – and maybe because I’m totally good with personal accountability.

With SOPA, it seems it is the online businesses that are held accountable and liable for carrying out all this….and yeah, maybe through all of it the actual offending domain gets taken offline, but really – how does that truly punish the offender?

And Let’s Get Honest Here…

Since most that read here regularly really do have a grasp on how the internet works, let me ask you this –

If an off-shores site dedicated to infringing content gets taken through all the hoops and taken offline, how long will it take for them to show up again on ANOTHER domain name? Less than an hour?

Gee, that’s a nasty punishment, isn’t it? I guess it sure would be if you’re innocent or it wasn’t done intentionally – but if you DID intend to do this and that’s how you operate, a site going offline is NOT going to stop you.

If you don’t stop the PERSON (or personS) that are actually committing the crime online, it won’t stop. I mean, seriously think about it – what a cat and mouse game that will end up costing U.S. businesses a ton of money and courtroom time. It just seems silly.

An editorial in the San Jose Mercury-News said –

“Imagine the resources required to parse through the millions of Google and Facebook offerings every day looking for pirates who, if found, can just toss up another site in no time.”

I totally agree…and to me, that’s why I think the intention behind SOPA makes sense, but the enforcement is ridiculous.

The article also says –

“Smith’s bill holds Web companies responsible for policing the Internet.”

Which, to me, is EXACTLY what it sounds like. If we need internet police, get an Internet Police Force. Do you agree?

What About Freedom of Speech?

As for the Freedom of Speech debate…. I’ve been reading and reading, but for the most part, I don’t really see this particular issue with SOPA. If anyone wants to enlighten me, please please do.

Now, there is a part of the bill that would allow judges to order internet service providers to block access to these infringing sites to US consumers – and I can see that. It’s a money thing – they don’t want US money going outside the US or anywhere they can’t get a piece if it (which brings me back to thinking about the online gaming thing) – but do we really need it BLOCKED from us to be protected?

Are we not accountable for our own actions?

This might sound trivial but – What about the company that makes my glasses? My glasses allow me to SEE those sites better…without the glasses I wouldn’t be able to read the site or order….so, we better punish the glasses company too, right?

And while we’re at it, I drank coffee to stay awake so I COULD go visit and order from that site…better punish the coffee company too.

And you bet they’ll go after Google because Google ALLOWED me to find it via their search engine – now we’re talking some pockets to get into! lol!

But if you keep reading – in addition to allowing ISPs to block those sites it could also allow checking of customers IP addresses and their activity online. This is called Deep Packet Inspection which is a BIG privacy concern in my opinion – and maybe that’s where the Freedom of Speech debate comes in?

Again, I’d really like to hear what you have to think. This is how I learn…how we all learn, so let’s share.

Where I Get Really Annoyed

You know who a BIG supporter of SOPA is? The United States Chamber of Commerce. That sounds like, “Wow!”

Yeah, no “Wow” there – the US Chamber of Commerce is NOT a gov’t entity – it’s a business (read their “About Page” and see). It’s members are some of the biggest “Big Business” businesses in the United States.

Businesses put their money into the US Chamber of Commerce…and that US Chamber of Commerce makes sure our gov’t is full of politicians, judges, etc that are proponents of Big Business rulings and laws.

So, say I am a Big Business business owner and I really, really want Judge Joe Blow to be elected because he always rules in favor of Big Business so I want him seated on the cases brought against me.

Now, if I, Big Business Owner, decide to donate to Judge Joe Blow’s campaign, the odds are good that Judge Joe Blow won’t be able to hear my cases (conflict of interest). Well that doesn’t work for me as the Big Business owner – I NEED that judge ruling on that case.

So instead, I donate my money to the US Chamber of Commerce and THEY donate to Judge Joe Blows campaign and lobby to get him elected…AND Judge Joe Blow CAN sit on my cases…and rule in my favor.

So of COURSE the US Chamber of Commerce is behind SOPA – their members are BIG BUSINESS, their members give BIG MONEY (yep, back to that money word…lol). Again, at the end of the day – it comes down to money and we, the “little people” online don’t have the MONEY to be heard or to make a real impact. That makes me feel defeated without even trying – does it make you feel that way too?

Supporters to the Left, Opposition to the Right…

All the companies and organizations I see in support of SOPA are manufacturers and associations (dare I say “Big Business”?)…. Revlon, Nike, the Motion Picture Association, the Recording Industry Association, L’Oreal, Nike, Acushnet (another golf business), the NBA… all businesses that I totally get why they would support SOPA (or at least the concept of it).

Heck, when I ran a golf course, my pro shop was broken into THREE times in the course of a year just to steal all my Callaway clubs. They were BIG overseas back then…so people would steal them and sell them to others oversea on eBay and the like.

However, in the lists of supporters, I don’t see any ONLINE businesses stating they are in support. Yes, there are some software companies showing support, but I imagine overseas piracy is a BIG issue for them too.

It really seems to come down to this: the ones who are being pirated are in support of SOPA – and the ones that might be held accountable and liable for said piracy are opposed to SOPA.

Meanwhile, the actual offender is not even mentioned.

Suffering from Piracy? Your line is to the Left marked “Supporters”.

Going to Be Held Accountable for Policing SOPA? Your line is to the right marked “Opposition”.

Are you the one DOING the piracy? You’re free to go. We’re not gonna bother with you – your pockets aren’t deep enough.

Just nuts. Makes absolutely no sense to me.

Am I the only one who interprets it all this way? Am I wrong? Please tell me.

Summing Up

In summary, the base concept of SOPA makes sense to me, but the plans on how to enact it seem ridiculous. While I sympathize with the problem at hand that is being addressed, I have a real problem with the proposed solution as far as I understand it.

I think they need to start from scratch and have people on this committee that actually understand how the internet and internet technology work AND who understand how the internet economy works – and someone needs to speak for the “little people” that are involved in all this. Don’t we deserve some advocacy too?

Will it pass? Who knows. From all I’ve come across, the bill as currently structured will be vetoed by Obama. However,the closer we get to elections the more likely that could change. Election campaigns need supporters and major money – Big Business provides that money in exchange for what they want…..and politicians tend to do what the money wants (or else they get no money).

Yep, back to that money word again.

My advice, if you are opposed to SOPA, speak up to those that need to hear it. Sadly, we don’t have a United States Chamber of Internet Business Owners to lobby for us (or at least not that I’m aware of – and if not, that’s a damn good idea…lol) – so we have to speak for ourselves and in MASSIVE quantity.

Yes, we most likely will be met by a “pat on the head” individually, but mass makes an impression. And who knows, YOUR phone call could be “the one” – the one call that is the tipping point and makes that politician think, “Fine! No to SOPA… I’m not risking MY re-election on all this!”

Ya never know.

Above all, we have to keep an eye on what ELSE this bill could bring about. Remember the SAFE Port Act?

Just like we’re all happy with safer ports here in the United States, I’m sure we’re all fine with stopping online piracy – BUT, what is the other hand doing? Are they “wagging the dog” here?

That’s my 2.5 cents =) I’m just one little woman in one little town in Georgia and I’m doing the best I can to sort through all this craziness like the rest of y’all. Like I said, my perception of all this could be totally off base – and that’s fine, I’m wrong often and one more time won’t hurt me. But by speaking up and speaking OUT, I have an opportunity to learn more and gather more insight from those that are in the same boat as I am – AND those that know more than I do about all this.

I would LOVE to hear your opinions and thoughts too. Please share your thoughts and findings, but please be civil =)

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