Currently in the United States congress there is a furor over how a new form of copyright legislation is to be ruled upon. The Support Online Piracy Act (SOPA) at the center of this debate has effects that will reach well beyond the border of the United States.
In fact SOPA could make it possible that Canadians someday soon may open their browser and find their favourite sites have just been wiped off the face of the internet.
Copyright reform in the US has undergone quite a bit of turmoil over the past few years. Since the introduction of peer-to-peer file sharing networks, legislation has been continually drafted, although most were not enacted. The only act which actually passed in this time was the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which led to many multimillion dollar lawsuits against users, most unaware that they were doing something illegal.
It did not affect the networks however, as most are situated outside of the country and don’t actually host the copyrighted material people had been downloading — they just host directions where users can find it.
SOPA is the current bill to combat this. The focus of the bill is to stop copyright infringement at its source by blacklisting sites accused of hosting copyrighted material. Under this new law, any site which has been accused of copyright infringement can have its domain name revoked.
Essentially, revoking a domain name is the equivalent of tearing down all the signs leading to this site. Since these foreign sites cannot be shut down, the hope is that no one will be able to find them anymore.
If you type the site addresses in the browser, you will no longer be sent to these websites. The site is still there but every path to the site is closed down.
The main issue with the bill is that this blacklisting will take place only when two copyright complaints are submitted, whether or not they are legitimate. Internet service providers will be obligated under SOPA to revoke these domain names, even before any proof of infringement comes forward. With such a heavy-handed approach the main concern is that legitimate sites will be blacklisted before copyright claims can be resolved.
This adversely affects Canadians in a number of ways. Firstly, any U.S.-based sites we access can be blacklisted at the drop of a hat. With their domain name revoked, no one on the internet, regardless of physical location, will be able to access that site. Overnight, websites you like to visit may just disappear because a someone accused it of harbouring copyrighted material.
The more disconcerting implication of this act is that SOPA will affect any website whose domain name is hosted in the US. Unbeknownst to most Canadians, domain names for Canadian sites are hosted within the US. IP addresses, or the direct addresses to these websites, are all distributed by the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN). ARIN is regulated by US law meaning Canadian sites, as well as those in 20 other countries could be blacklisted simply because they are accused of copyright infringement from within the US.
This would undoubtedly have a profound impact on Canadian business owner.
The real question is what Canadians can do about it.
Actively opposing US legislation from another country is next to impossible. Concerned Canadians have found a way to fight this in the form of boycotting international companies which lend their support to SOPA. Campaigns and petitions urging companies to withdraw their support from this bill seem to be one of the few ways Canadians can make a change.
By voting with their wallets, opponents of SOPA hope to cause a loss of corporate support — and thereby it’s political support.
Currently, the discussion over SOPA had been postponed. The plan is to continue the debate after congress returns from its winter recess.
Kevin Beavington is a freelance writer who follows issues of technology and the internet.