Wednesday, February 10 , 2016, 2:16 pm | Fair 78º

Bill Macfadyen: Why Noozhawk Opposes SOPA, and Why You Should Care

Avast! The Stop Online Piracy Act is a bigger threat to your free speech and expression than it is to any pirates

It’s not a skull and crossbones that strikes fear in the heart of the Internet community, it’s the meddling of lawmakers who would destroy it to save a handful of industries threatened by pirates.
It’s not a skull and crossbones that strikes fear in the heart of the Internet community, it’s the meddling of lawmakers who would destroy it to save a handful of industries threatened by pirates.  (iStockphoto)

By William M. Macfadyen, Noozhawk Publisher | @noozhawk | updated logo |

When I first heard talk of SOPA, of course I thought of Mexican food. But the more I’ve learned about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) working its way through Congress, the more of a bad taste it leaves.

On name alone, the legislation should pass easily. What publisher would condone piracy and oppose efforts to fight rogue Web sites trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property?

These are fair questions, especially for companies like Noozhawk that have trademarked their brands, copyright their original content, and take steps to ensure that material posted on their sites complies with carefully crafted, lawyer-drafted Terms of Use.

But the larger issues here are free expression, censorship and First Amendment rights, coupled with changes to Internet protocols that are geek to most of us but, in fact, are at the very heart of our identity on the World Wide Web.

SOPA started out as a way to protect intellectual property and the financial and economic juggernaut that goes along with it. In defiance of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, there’s an evil empire of black-arts practitioners preying on American companies, especially those in Hollywood. Many of these thieves are located in foreign countries — well beyond the reach of the enforcers of U.S. copyright law.

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and a bipartisan group of co-sponsors, proposed a bill to allow the Justice Department and copyright holders to strike back at Web sites that are even unwittingly connected to the offending source. Somebody’s got to pay if the overseas bills are ignored, right?

Once notified, targeted sites would have five days — 120 hours — to submit an appeal. Under the legislation, if the response is unsatisfactory, the federal government is authorized to:

» Cut off the sites from search engines like Google and Yahoo!

» Require Internet service providers like Cox, Impulse and Verizon to block their customers from accessing the sites

» Bar the sites from interacting with their advertisers and ad networks like Google AdSense

» Prohibit the sites from using payment providers like PayPal

How long can a Web site last with no traffic and no revenue? I know that answer, and it’s not one I wish to contemplate.

But enough about Noozhawk. What’s in it for you?

» Censorship. The legislation allows for the blocking of entire Web sites for “promoting” copyright infringement, even if it’s through something as insignificant as a link in a user comment on a story. The death penalty apparently is administered regardless of the presence of constitutionally protected and clearly non-infringing speech like ads, commentary and search results.

“The First Amendment requires that the government proceed with a scalpel — by prosecuting those who break the law — rather than with the sledgehammer approach of SOPA, which would silence speech across the board,” Harvard constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe wrote in opposing the bill.

Maybe you use email, Craigslist, eBay, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Vimeo. I know you would never, ever link to or forward something whose provenance you weren’t 100 percent sure of; it’s your brother-in-law who does that.

But with hundreds of millions of users of their services, do you think those companies will trust you if their bottoms are on the line? In all likelihood, they’ll begin monitoring and/or restricting everything you do to prevent the possibility of being sued over copyright infringement or liability for criminal charges.

» Disruption. Every computer on the Internet is identified by a complicated string of unique numbers, but the Domain Name System registry converts the numbers into more recognizable and memorable Web site domains, like SOPA contains a controversial filtering mandate that would allow editing of the DNS, however.

How is that harmful? Engineers have been developing a new DNS protocol to combat the increasingly common hijacking of a user’s browsing command that redirects the user to a phony Web site with the DNS of a trusted domain. What’s more, the Internet is inherently decentralized, which makes it an environment conducive to coders intent on writing their way around the roadblocks so those black-listed foreign Web sites can still be reached.

Fulfilling the law of unintended consequences, SOPA’s filtering requirements would torpedo the new authentication process while doing nothing to alleviate Web security risks.

» Expense. The increased monitoring and analysis that SOPA requires will pose a significant financial burden, with a negative toll on Internet innovation and investment. You’ll pay for that now as well as later.

The escalating risk will most certainly mean fewer Internet startups and less Web development. Don’t get too comfortable using tools like Dropbox, Flickr, Scribd, Shutterfly or Storify. Or resources like Flipboard, Google Docs, Wikipedia and WordPress. Or try to get your head around the concept of cloud computing.

So, what can you do? It’s all about Congress at this point. Join me in contacting our three elected representatives — Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, and Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. — and asking them to help us defeat this ridiculous legislation.

You should also contact Smith and the House Judiciary Committee, which is to resume deliberations on SOPA (H.R. 3261) in January.

I can think of 50 things that Congress and the Obama administration could do today to clear the path for economic growth in this chronic recession. “Fixing” the Internet isn’t one of them.

Click here for more information on SOPA from the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, whose mission is to defend free speech, privacy, innovation and consumer rights in the digital world.

Noozhawk publisher Bill Macfadyen can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Lois Capps-SOPA Letter 12.26.11


» on 12.26.11 @ 03:10 PM

I contacted Rep. Capps last week several times.  Her office informed me she is still weighing the merits of the bill and is not specifically coming down against SOPA or PIPA.  People.. please call or write and voice your concerns.  I believe Rep. Capps *can* become educated as to the damage this bill will inflict.  However at the moment she seems persuaded by the misleading anti-piracy provisions.

» on 12.28.11 @ 02:08 AM


I agree 100% wth you. We do not need the govt interfering with the internet. All this regulation is strangulating our economy and making it impossible for entrepreneurs like you to run a business.

[Noozhawk’s note: Thank you, Lou. If piracy is the problem (and it is), go after the pirates. Claiming you have to sweep up everyone is just naked government censorship of perhaps the most democratic invention in history. Coincidence? — Bill].

» on 12.28.11 @ 02:20 PM

We’re the US Congress and we know better than you.  So shut up.

» on 12.28.11 @ 05:48 PM

This bill (like most) is written by the very lobbyist and entities to whom would most benefit from the enforcement of the law.  Let this be a lesson to all that our representatives in Washington are not acting in the best interest of the people but in the best interests of the corporations that pay the lobbyists the money and stuff the re-election coffers.

The fact that Capps is even thinking about this bill tells me everything I’d ever need to know about her ability to comprehend or her desire to act in the best interest of the people she represents.

And to Lou:  You do realize that the internet would not exist without Federal Govt support and or financing.  In your world we’d all be paying a toll to every private entity at every hop… Govt investing into non proven technologies is what built the great tech empire we now control.  Food for thought on your day as you rile against all things Govt funded.

» on 12.28.11 @ 10:04 PM


With all due respect, the govt’s investment in the internet is neglible compared to all the private capital that has been invested. The development of the internet has been largely financed through public stock offerings and venture capital investments. Some regulation is necessary (net neutrality), but I can assure if the govt was taxing internet users or intrusively micromanaging the internet, I am sure it would look much different than what it is has become. The building of the infrastructure and the development of commercial applications for the internet has been a private sector phenomenon.

» on 12.29.11 @ 12:14 PM

Sorry Lou but the genesis of the internet came out of DARPA, NASA and many publicly funded universities.  The massive amount of investment into the non existent and unproven technologies by the Govt is what made it all work and made it possible… way, way way before the Web was born with the 500x growth multiples and absurd IPOs.

This is where your philosophies fall off the cliff.  Without all the funding and investment by the Feds we would not have the great technological advantage we now enjoy.  A huge number of the things you use in your life would not have emerged and perhaps worse, they’d be locked and hidden behind proprietary systems and used only for private technological and financial gains.

» on 12.29.11 @ 07:07 PM

No doubt unintentionally, someguyinsb’s defense of what he claims are the fruits of the government’s beneficence with the Internet are precisely what would be lost under SOPA. Thanks to private investment and risk, we have a tech-hungry and dependent society — and huge technological advancements that have made our lives infinitely better than just a few decades ago. I for one don’t want to go back to the stone ages when a handful of powerful interests controlled everything.

» on 12.31.11 @ 03:43 AM

Bill, I totally agree that this is so ignorantly misguided that it will hog tie the most powerful force for representative democracy we have seen in the past 100 years. The fact that Ms. Capps is weighing the issue just proves, once more, how intellectually empty she is - but progressives elected her so ya get what ya deserve, it’s unfortunate the rest of us have to suffer too.

The one bright sign seems to be the threat from major corporations…that also have lobbyists, to black out their sites in protest.  These Washington D.C. and Hollywood idiots that are pushing this have no damn idea what will roll their way if they continue to bend over for their masters.

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