If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.
~ George Washington (1732-1799)
At the expense of legitimate commerce, PIPA’s prescription takes an overreaching approach to policing the Internet when a more balanced and targeted approach would be more effective. The collateral damage of this approach is speech, innovation and the very integrity of the Internet.
~ Senator Wyden of Oregon
People simply disappeared, always during the night. Your name was removed from the registers, every record of everything you had ever done was wiped out, your one-time existence was denied and then forgotten. You were abolished, annihilated: vaporized was the usual word.
~ George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 1
New proposed legislation, known as the PROTECT IP Act or (PIPA), would create a blacklist of “rogue sites,” and would force Internet service providers to block access to those sites. This is accomplished by removing their registration with the Domain Name System (DNS). The Domain Name System serves as a “contact list” for the Internet by translating known computer website or hostnames into numerical IP addresses. PIPA would grant authority to the U.S. Attorney General to “suspend operation of, and lock, the domain name” of any Web site the DOJ deems to be infringing on copyrights. By the way, you won’t be getting a hearing or any due process before that happens. Even the copyright holders can seek civil injunctions, thereby effectively meddling with the heart of the Internet.
When one enters the domain name into a browser of a “rogue site” there will be no result. For instance, if this site were blacklisted: the entry of lawandequity.com in your browser’s address bar, a blank screen would appear. Ostensibly if you knew the corresponding IP address, you would still be able to visit the site by entering the internet protocol address. This begs the question of the effectiveness of PIPA’s advertised purpose. The real kicker (and perhaps the real purpose) is that payment capabilities, advertisements and hypertext links to the offending site would be shut down. In other words, they can starve you to death long before they will ever have to prove you have done something wrong.
A bill of this nature is rife with the potential for abuse. You need not look very far to see how copyright litigation is being used to silence individuals, stifle competition, or simply “extort” money based on accusations of copyright infringement. (Bloggers Mull Legal Action Against Righthaven; “a debt collection scheme but no debt was owed”; Forever 21 Threatens to Sue Mocking Fashion Blogger)(Click to see the object of Forever 21’s ire. I am still laughing.) I certainly don’t want to see Hollywood’s profits hurt. Going to the movies has always been one of my favorite things. However, the remedy described this bill is so overbroad as to threaten all of our freedom of speech. Offend the wrong person and you will be “vaporized.” Let’s hope Orwell was wrong about the outcome, and not just about the year.