What SOPA Means For Education, Technology, and the Future of the Internet

There’s a lot of talk about the Stop Online Piracy Act (“SOPA”) right now and for good reason. The future of the Internet depends on the outcome of these discussions. That’s because a controversial pair of bills are making their way through congress and they would definitely affect you.

SOPA is essentially an Internet Kill Switch that lets the US Attorney General force an Internet Service Provider to stop all traffic to a particular site within 5 days.

SOPA could be problematic for some educational websites. For example, not all education technology apps and websites have the proper copyright permission for every single image or video they use. If they ever run into trouble that has legal ramifications, SOPA could play a role. While I think that education-oriented websites are not the target of SOPA, it would be a shame if they were caught in the cross-fire.

It would also mean big problems for people looking to start their own education technology company. Young entrepreneurs worry about the bill possibly stunting intellectual and technological advancement in the country.

Answers To Your SOPA Questions

What’s the justification for SOPA and Protect IP?
Rogue websites, many offshore, that steal and pirate American content (movies, etc.) online. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the head of the House Judiciary committee chairman, was the author of SOPA.

How would SOPA work?
Like an Internet death penalty. With a court order, the US attorney general could force a service provider like Comcast to prevent access to a website within five days.

Who supports SOPA?
The three organizations that have probably been the most vocal are the MPAA, the Recording Industry Association of America, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Hollywood outspent Silicon Valley by about ten-fold on lobbyists in the last two years.

Who’s opposed to SOPA?
Many people and companies that use the Internet, such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Zynga, eBay, Mozilla, Yahoo, AOL and Linkedin.

How is SOPA different from the earlier Senate bill called the Protect IP Act?
SOPA is broader. Protect IP targeted domain name system providers, financial companies and ad networks — not companies that provide Internet connectivity.

What are the security-related implications of SOPA?
SOPA would require Internet providers to redirect allegedly piratical domain names to a different server, violating DNSSEC. DNSSEC is a set of security improvements to the domain name system so there is no break in the chain between a website and its user. Innocent websites could be swept up as collateral damage. The method can also be easily bypassed.

What will SOPA require Internet providers to do?
It could require Internet providers to monitor customers’ traffic and block websites suspected of copyright infringement.

Are there free speech implications to SOPA?
To be blacklisted, a website must be “directed” at the U.S. and the owner has to “promote” acts that can infringe copyright. Opponents say SOPA has language that could blacklist the next YouTube, Wikipedia or WikiLeaks.

What has the response to this language been?
The Motion Picture Association of America said SOPA is perfectly constitutional. Mozilla, which makes the Firefox web browser, responded by asking its users to “Protect the Internet: Help us stop the Internet Blacklist Legislation…your favorite websites both inside and outside the US could be blocked based on an infringement claim.”

Does the U.S. Congress support SOPA?
Support for Protect IP is remarkably broad, and SOPA a little less so. An analysis by the RIAA says that of some 1,900 bills that have been introduced in the Senate, only 18 other bills enjoy the same number of bipartisan cosponsors as Protect IP does.

What happens next?
In terms of Protect IP, the Senate Judiciary committee has approved it and it’s waiting for a floor vote. One hurdle: Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, has placed a hold on the bill. A vote on SOPA was postponed Friday, probably until sometime in early 2012. Where it goes from there is an open question that depends on where the House Republican leadership stands. Because the House’s floor schedule is under the control of the majority party, the decision will largely lie in the hands of House Speaker John Boehner and his lieutenants.

The Actual Bill

Here’s a look at the actual SOPA bill embedded via Scribd. TechCrunch recently pointed out a way that Scribd is protesting SOPA:

To highlight the chilling effect this legislation could have on free speech on te Internet, today document-sharing site Scribd is protesting SOPA by making every document disappear word-by-word when you vist the site. All in all, there are a billion pages of documents on the Scribd. “With this legislation in place, entire domains like Scribd could simply vanish from the web,” warns Jared Friedman, CTO and co-founder, Scribd.

Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act

A Visual Explanation of SOPA

As with any bill, it’s complicated, but this infographic boils it down. An activist group organized by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Creative Commons, Mozilla, Public Knowledge, the Free Software Foundation and others who oppose the bill, created the infographic below:

How Could SOPA Affect You?

Some of the founders of PayPal, Yahoo, eBay and Netscape even took out full page ads in The New York Times to voice their opposition of the measure.

“Unfortunately, the bills as drafted would expose law-abiding US internet and technology companies to new uncertain liabilities, private rights of action, and technology mandates that would require monitoring of websites,” companies such as Google, Zynga, Mozilla, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Facebook and Twitter wrote in a letter to the House of Representatives and Senate Judiciary committee.

“A study examined approximately 100 rogue sites and found that these sites attracted more than 53 billion visits per year, which average out to approximately nine visits for every man, woman, and child on Earth,” the companies wrote in their letter to Congress, which you can read here (PDF). “Global sales of counterfeit goods via the Internet from illegitimate retailers reached $135 billion in 2010. The theft of American IP is the theft of American jobs.”

However, for several companies in the valley the bill goes too far and is in fact a violation of civil liberties since companies, such as Google, would be required to monitor what its users are searching or an ISP provider like Comcast would be required to block its users from navigating to certain sites.

The depth of the bill has pushed Google chairman Eric Schmidt to call the measure “draconian,” while others have equated it to China level censorship of the Internet.

But some in Congress allege that Google and others oppose the bill because they actually make money off of Internet piracy.

Young entrepreneurs worry about the bill possibly stunting intellectual and technological advancement in the country.

Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of news-aggregating website Reddit.com, said his company never would have been able to be launch had SOPA been the law when Reddit.com started.
He said he worries that the next great big idea will never come to fruition because of SOPA restrictions.

Ohanian recently hosted a telethon to encourage Americans to call their Congressional constituents and voice their opposition to SOPA.

The Motion Picture Association of America strongly disagrees with Ohanian and his supporters.

The movie-making community said the U.S. Department of Justice would be given powers by SOPA that would not only protect art in America it would encourage others to create their own art because they know it is protected.

Others worry that open source projects would be killed by SOPA and that it would lead to domain blocking, which could lead to a loss in jobs anyway.

“It would cover IP blocking. I think it contemplates deep packet inspection” said Markham C. Erikson, head of NetCoalition, recently said.

But Cary Sherman, the head of the Recording Industry Association of America, countered in a recent op-ed that the bill would focus on only blocking violating IPs and not entire domains or servers by denying “access to only the illegal part of the site.”

The ultimate bottom line for hardliners on both sides comes down to dollars. Those who argue that SOPA will save money for companies that invest heavily in America’s economy and others who argue the opposite.

The one point that can’t be debated is the Internet’s impact on the United States annual GDP. President Barack Obama cited a recent report (PDF) that said the Internet adds approximately $2 trillion to the country’s annual GDP and the IDC has predicted that will add up to 7.1 million new jobs and 100,000 new businesses created in the next four years because of the tech sector.