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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

SOPA/PIPA and Weird Soda Review

By now, you've undoubtedly heard that the US Congress is considering various legislation ostensibly designed to help protect the owners of copyrighted material from the threat of online theft and piracy.

While we at the Lab do recognize that theft of copyrighted material can be a problem, and we do support the right of creators of works to have some control over the distribution of those works, we feel that the legislation being considered (known as the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act, or SOPA and PIPA) are the wrong way to address the problem.

These bills would permit (or possibly mandate) that websites accused of inappropriately posting or linking to copyrighted material be "blocked", possibly by preventing DNS systems from properly directing traffic to the correct IP address and by forcing search engines to stop returning links to the accused offenders. These powers could be invoked by holders of copyright material.

One concern is that the legislation fails to provide sufficient due process, allowing holders of material to attempt to silence websites without having to provide proof of wrongdoing. In this way, individuals or organizations might attempt to suppress the publication of legitimate work (such as parody) or other "fair use" products by invoking a preemptive silencing of a website.
As an example of how it might affect the Lab, hypothetically, the Coca-Cola company might not approve of a review in which we claim that Coca-Cola tastes a bit like lemon Pledge. They could claim that this site had violated copyright by using terms such as Coca-Cola, and seek to have blocked for an indefinite period while the issue is resolved. It is possible to imagine this being used as a tool to suppress criticism or dissent, rather than combat theft.
This could occur despite the fact that it is perfectly legal to use copyrighted terms such as Coca-Cola in criticism, review, or parody.

In addition, the proposed mechanisms would be ineffective at deterring real piracy, as they are relatively easy to circumvent. Because of that, the bills are unlikely to actually deter theft, while making it easier to suppress legitimate use of copyrighted material.

Because SOPA and PIPA would make wielding such power too easy, but fail to actually accomplish their stated goals, we at the Lab do not support the legislation, and urge Congress to revise the bills to provide stronger protections for individuals and companies who are not actually violating intellectual property law.


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