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Ask Slashdot: What Can You Do About SOPA and PIPA? 1002

Wednesday is here, and with it sites around the internet are going under temporary blackout to protest two pieces of legislation currently making their way through the U.S. Congress: the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect-IP Act (PIPA). Wikipedia, reddit, the Free Software Foundation, Google, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, imgur, Mozilla, and many others have all made major changes to their sites or shut down altogether in protest. These sites, as well as technology experts (PDF) around the world and everyone here at Slashdot, think SOPA and PIPA pose unacceptable risks to freedom of speech and the uncensored nature of the internet. The purpose of the protests is to educate people — to let them know this legislation will damage websites you use and enjoy every day, despite being unrelated to the stated purpose of both bills. So, we ask you: what can you do to stop SOPA and PIPA? You may have heard the House has shelved SOPA, and that President Obama has pledged not to pass it as-is, but the MPAA and SOPA-sponsor Lamar Smith (R-TX) are trying to brush off the protests as a stunt, and Smith has announced markup for the bill will resume in February. Meanwhile, PIPA is still present in the Senate, and it remains a threat. Read on for more about why these bills are bad news, and how to contact your representative to let them know it.

Note: This will be the last story we post today until 6pm EST in protest of SOPA.
Why is it bad?

The Stop Online Piracy Act is H.R.3261, and the Protect-IP Act is S.968.

The intent of both pieces of legislation is to combat online piracy, giving the Attorney General and the Department of Justice power to block domain name services and demand that links be stripped from sites not involved in piracy. The problem is that the legislation, as written, is vague and overly-broad. For one thing, it classifies internet sites as "foreign" or "domestic" based entirely on their domain name. A site hosted abroad like could be classified as "domestic" because the .org TLD is registered through a U.S. authority. By defining it as "domestic," Wikileaks would then fall under the jurisdiction of U.S. laws. Other provisions are worded even more poorly: in Section 103, SOPA lays out the definition for a "foreign infringing site" as one where "the owner or operator of such Internet site is committing or facilitating the commission of criminal violations punishable under [provisions relating to counterfeiting and copyright infringement]." The problematic word is facilitating, as it opens the door to condemning sites that simply link to other sites.

The most obvious implication of this is that search engines would suddenly be responsible for monitoring and policing everything they index. Google indexed its trillionth concurrent URL in 2008. Can you imagine how many people it would take to double check all of them for infringing content? But the job wouldn't end at simply looking at them — Google would have to continually monitor them. Google would also have to somehow keep track of the billions of new sites that spring up daily, many of which would be trying to avoid close scrutiny. Of course, it's an impossible task, so there would need to be automated solutions. Automation being imperfect, it would leave us with false positives. Or perhaps sites would need to be "approved" to be listed. Either way, we'd then be dealing with censorship on a massive scale, and the infringing sites themselves would continue to pop up.

But the problems don't end there; in fact, SOPA defines "Internet search engine" as a service that "searches, crawls, categorizes, or indexes information or Web sites available elsewhere on the Internet" and links to them. That's pretty much what we do here at Slashdot. It's also something the fine folks at Wikipedia and reddit do on a regular basis. The strength of all three sites is that they're heavily dependent on user-generated content. Every day at Slashdot, readers deposit hundreds and hundreds of links into our submissions bin. Thousands of comments are made daily. We have a system to surface the good content, but the chaff still exists. If we suddenly had a mandate to retroactively filter out all the links to potentially copyright-infringing sites in our database, we wouldn't have many options. We're talking about reviewing hundreds of thousands of submissions, and every comment on 117,000+ stories. And we're far from the biggest site around — imagine social networks needing to police their content, and all the privacy issues that would raise.

Small sites and new sites would be hurt, too. A website isn't a single, discrete entity that exists on its own. A new company starting up a site would have to worry about its webhost, registrar, content provider, ISP, etc. The legislation would also raise significant financial obstacles. New companies need investments, and that would be much less likely (PDF) if the company could be held liable for content uploaded by users. On top of that, if the site was unable to live up to the vague standards set by the government and the entertainment industry, they could be on the receiving end of a lawsuit, which would be expensive to fight even if they won (and such laws would never, ever be abused). It's hard to conceptualize the internet without noting its unrivaled growth, and SOPA/PIPA would surely stifle it.

This legislation hits near and dear to the hearts of many Slashdotters; if SOPA/PIPA pass, IT staff for companies small and large are going to have their hands full making sure they aren't opening themselves to legal action or government intervention. Mailing lists, used commonly and extensively among open source software projects, would be endangered. Code repositories would need be scoured for infringing content; the bill allows for the strangling of revenue sources if its anti-infringement rules aren't being met. VPN and proxy services become only questionably legal. The very nature of the open source community — as the EFF puts it, "decentralized, voluntary, international" — is not compatible with the burdens placed on internet sites by SOPA and PIPA.

What can we do?

So, what can we do about it? There are two big things: contact your representative, and spread the word. Slashdot readers, on the whole, are more technically-minded than the average internet user, so you're all in a position to share your wisdom with the less internet-savvy people in your life, and get them to contact their representative, too. Here's some useful information for doing so:

Propublica has a list of all SOPA/PIPA supporters and opponents.
Here is the Senate contact list and the House contact list.
You can also use the EFF's form-letter, the Stop American Censorship form-letter, or sign Google's petition.
If you don't live in the U.S., you can petition the State Department. (And yes, you have a dog in this fight.)
SOPAStrike has a list of companies participating in the protest, and this crowd-sourced Google Doc tracks companies that support the legislation. Tell those companies what you think.

Further reading: Wikipedia has left their SOPA and PIPA pages up. The EFF has a series of articles explaining in more depth what is wrong with the bills. Here are some protest letters written to Congress from human rights groups, law professors, and internet companies.

Go forth and educate.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Ask Slashdot: What Can You Do About SOPA and PIPA?

Comments Filter:
  • I'm not in America! (Score:5, Informative)

    by duguk (589689) <> on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @10:17AM (#38737410) Homepage Journal
    How about for the rest of us who aren't in America?
    I'd really like to help, since if this passes it's only a matter of time before it's in the UK too.

    What can we non-US citizens do to help?
  • Re:Not Blacked Out? (Score:5, Informative)

    by JoeMerchant (803320) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @10:17AM (#38737412)

    Why is slashdot ignoring the blackout?
    With so many links to questionable content, this illegal news source seems like a hive of crime.

    Get it right, it's not "a hive of crime," it's "a wretched hive of scum and villany."

  • Re:Not Blacked Out? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Thiez (1281866) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @10:20AM (#38737456)

    The point of the blackout seems to be to raise awareness. Since it's quite likely most /. readers will be aware of SOPA and PIPA (if only because there have been so many articles about them already, there is very little awareness to gain by having a blackout.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @10:34AM (#38737624)

    Try petitioning the State Department: []

  • by Sharkus (677553) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @10:35AM (#38737640)
    This is from the wikipedia page on SOPA:

    If you're not in the US:

    If you live outside the United States, contact your State Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs or similar branch of government. Tell them you oppose SOPA and PIPA, and want the internet to remain open and free.
    The decision for a global blackout was made in view of concerns about similar legislation in other nations.
  • by Port1080 (515567) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @10:37AM (#38737668) Homepage

    It's easy to end an e-mail letter, but those aren't as effective as a personally written letter. In order of effectiveness, petitions are the lowest, followed by e-mail form letters, followed by personally written e-mails, followed by mailed form letters, followed by phone calls, followed by personally written mailed letters. Personally visiting your Congressman's office is also highly effective (this is probably less possible with your Senator, unless you live in a small population state, but Representatives often have offices that the public can easily visit and offer feedback). The most effective thing to do, if you don't have a lot of money (large cash donations are VERY effective), is to become a volunteer (assuming your Rep is someone that you can get behind on most issues and you'd like to see reelected) and get plugged in. It's not as difficult as you'd think. Once your Rep knows you by name, and potentially respects your opinion, you can slip some info in about tech issues from time to time. Of course, this does take a lot of effort and time commitment, which is why most people won't be doing it - but if you've got the time, and want to make a difference, it's definitely something you can do.

  • Re:Not Blacked Out? (Score:5, Informative)

    by geminidomino (614729) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @10:42AM (#38737754) Journal

    Hey, Questionable Content [] is pseudo-blacked out.

    I know you're trolling, but for the sake of anyone else asking: who is Slashdot going to clue in? We've all been hearing about it for months, we know it's bad and (more or less) why, and we're not going to enlighten the trolls or the irrational authoritarian dickbags who think it's right because it's USGov doing it...

    So really, why would slashdot need to black out.

    I'm more curious how "The Escapist" is going to respond to the "Call to Arms" that the Extra Credits/LRR and Firefall guys put out at 3AM (EST)...

  • by SirGarlon (845873) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @11:05AM (#38738016)

    As others have said, there is one major presidential candidate who is against SOPA: Ron Paul. I don't personally support Mr. Paul because of unrelated issues, but it's a fact he is opposed to SOPA, to the point of joining the blackout [].

    Slightly off-topic but if you are asking "what can I do" and you want to get at the root cause, not the symptom, you might want to check out the Move to Amend [].

  • Research Works Act (Score:5, Informative)

    by Guppy (12314) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @11:16AM (#38738156)

    While we're on the general topic, I'd like to remind folks about another bill being considered, the Research Works Act []. Previously covered on Slashdot here [], the act is being pushed by the journal industry, and would reverse the current requirement that papers resulting from federally funded research be freely available to the public.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @11:29AM (#38738292)

    From their page on SOPA

    Is it still possible to access Wikipedia in any way?

            Yes. During the blackout, Wikipedia is accessible on mobile devices and smart phones. You can also view Wikipedia normally by disabling JavaScript in your browser, as explained on this Technical FAQ page. Our purpose here isn't to make it completely impossible for people to read Wikipedia, and it's okay for you to circumvent the blackout. We just want to make sure you see our message.

  • by SystemicPlural (1405625) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @11:36AM (#38738392)
    If you are in Europe then contact your MEP about ACTA. Which has similar problems to SOPA and PIPA.
    If you are in the UK you can do so easily at [].
    More info here [] and here [].
  • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @11:58AM (#38738640)

    ...even the mention of a simple brand name could be enough cause to convince a US judge to get a domain name blacklisted...

    Huh? What judge? With SOPA & PIPA, there's no due process to follow or judge to convince; the bully companies get to play judge, jury and executioner themselves!

  • Re:Spread the word (Score:5, Informative)

    by jupiter126 (2471462) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @12:13PM (#38738836)
    One of the major problem is that the problem is mostly known by english speaking people. Here's a translation to french of an essai on SOPA by the Stanford Law Review, please pass it on to your french-speaking contacts: []
  • Re:Spread the word (Score:5, Informative)

    by hexadecimate (761789) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @12:15PM (#38738860)
    A useful link [] [techdirt] to send to anyone defending or even ambivalent about SOPA. It's legislation designed by a lobby group to service their agenda, and damn any unforeseen consequences. If you think the RIAA and MPAA give a shit about the free speech and due process of *others* balanced against their desire to maximize profits, you've been asleep for the last twenty years.
  • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @12:17PM (#38738894)

    Huh? What judge? With SOPA & PIPA, there's no due process to follow or judge to convince; the bully companies get to play judge, jury and executioner themselves!

    Umm, no.

    SOPA requires a Court Order to do anything. Read the Bill.

    And yes, you have to convince a Judge to get a Court Order.

  • Re:Spread the word (Score:5, Informative)

    by steelfood (895457) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @12:28PM (#38739052)

    You should explain that the big deal for Wikipedia is that if one of these bills were passed, someone (or some company) can claim one of Wikipedia's pages is infringing on said entity's copyrights and have Wikipedia temporarily taken down without presenting any actual evidence of that infringement. As Wikipedia has many pages, its content is user-generated, and the full history of each page is maintained, not only can this inadvertently be true, but it can be repeated over and over again until the people running Wikipedia either quits out of frustration or becomes irrelevant due to the continuous downtime.

    You can also add that while Wikipedia may have the legal resources to fight such claims, it is firstly resources better off used to maintain and grow their services instead of fighting potentially frivilous but immediately damaging claims, and secondly that the individual blogger, personal sites, and sites run by smaller organizations will not have access to such legal resources, and will be forced to shut down indefinitely without recourse. If your acquaintance has a personal site or blog, you can point out that an infringement claim can come from anyone, especially from competitors looking to steal page views from your acquaintance's blog, or from enemies your acquaintance may have made by writing something offensive to that individual, or even (though it's a stretch) from mobs like Anonymous who may just do it for the lulz.

    The only winners of this are the entities who don't have an internet presence, and don't care to.

  • Re:Spread the word (Score:5, Informative)

    by MoonBuggy (611105) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @12:37PM (#38739154) Journal

    The UK particularly, since apparently we're bound [] by US copyright laws now...

  • by compro01 (777531) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @12:51PM (#38739324)

    It's 1005. It's one panel, but you need good eyes and a monitor with good contrast to see BHG in the background.

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @01:03PM (#38739452) Homepage

    He is the best choice among all the other Republican out of touch fuck-knobs.

    You know the party is screwed when Ron Paul looks like the most sane person up there.

  • From my Senator (Score:4, Informative)

    by Scarred Intellect (1648867) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @01:07PM (#38739518) Homepage Journal

    Dear Mr.[redacted],

    Thank you for contacting me about the internet streaming of copyrighted material. I appreciate hearing from you on this issue.

    On May 12, 2011, Senator Leahy (D-VT) introduced S. 968, the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property (PROTECT IP) Act. While I am supportive of the goals of the bill, I am deeply concerned that the definitions and the means by which the legislation seeks to accomplish these goals will have unintended consequences and hurt innovation, job creation, and threaten online speech and security. On November 17, 2011, I signed a letter along with Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) objecting to the bill as it is currently written.

    On December 17, 2011, Senator Wyden introduced the "Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade" (OPEN) Act (S. 2029), of which I am an original co-sponsor. The bill has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee, where it is currently awaiting further review. The OPEN Act is a more effective approach to stopping foreign web sites that are found to be primarily and willfully used to infringe intellectual property rights. The OPEN Act builds on the existing legal framework used by the International Trade Commission for addressing unfair acts in the importation of articles into the United States, or in their sale for importation, or sale within the United States after importation.

    Our trade laws have yet to catch up to deal with the global digital economy. The OPEN Act recognizes that the Internet has created new opportunities for foreign products to reach the U.S. market and that there is little difference between downloading a pirated movie from a foreign website and importing a counterfeit movie DVD from a foreign company. For those foreign web sites that are determined after an investigation to be primarily and willfully infringing, the International Trade Commission will issue a "Cease and Desist" order. The "Cease and Desist" order may also be served on financial intermediaries that provide services to that foreign web site, compelling financial payment processors and online advertising providers to cease doing business with the foreign site in question. This would cut off financial incentives for this illegal activity and deter these unfair imports from reaching the U.S. market.

    The OPEN Act addresses the same challenges as the PROTECT IP Act, while protecting freedom of speech, innovation, and security on the Internet. The challenge of rogue web sites is one that many nation's face. The United State has always been seen as a leader on Internet issues. Laws we establish in the United States regarding the Internet are likely to be used as models around the world. And because the Internet is global in nature, it is important that we carefully consider how the laws and policies we adopt in this area may be received and translated by other countries.

    Thank you again for contacting me to share your thoughts on this matter. You may also be interested in signing up for periodic updates for Washington State residents. If you are interested in subscribing to this update, please visit my website at [] Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future if I can be of further assistance.

    Maria Cantwell
    United States Senator

    For future correspondence with my office, please visit my website at []

  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @01:11PM (#38739564) Journal

    It sounds, from his comment, like even he hasn't read it. "If this bill is as bad as you say..." - wtf? He either didn't read it, or can't articulate the benefits - both very, very bad for the supposed author.

  • Re:Not Blacked Out? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Soulskill (1459) Works for Slashdot on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @01:15PM (#38739610) Homepage

    Everybody at Slashdot was in favor of a blackout to protest these pieces of legislation. That said, we're part of a publicly-traded company, and we don't just get to shut down the site when we want to.

    We did, however, get full support for these anti-SOPA/PIPA posts, which will be remaining at the top of the page for the day in lieu of new stories.

  • by blind biker (1066130) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @01:49PM (#38739990) Journal

    I am an advocate of copyright. I feel it is a very effective mechanism for channeling revenue to those who advance science and the useful arts.

    At least when it comes to science, this statement is a fucking lie. Me and my colleagues in science, have no love for copyrights, because it is *always* a gun pointed against our work. It is a means for private journals to make money, nothing else. Most scientists would love for the results of their scientific research to reach as wide an audience as possible, and see copyrights as the main obstacle in that.

    Even those scientists that don't look at science quite so altruistically, hate copyrights because it makes citing other works a total pain in the arse (try writing a document review or a textbook, and see how much you enjoy filling those forms asking for permissions from each copyrights holder, for each picture you would like to include in your book or document review).

    Sorry, maybe this is too long and confusing. In brief, scientists view on the issue is FUCK COPYRIGHTS, WITH A RAKE!

  • Re:Spread the word (Score:5, Informative)

    by Opportunist (166417) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @01:49PM (#38739992)

    If you actually read their explanation page, then you'd know that yes, it was intentional that it's easy to circumvent. Allow me to quote the relevant portion of the page so you are not weighed down with the task of reading a full screen of text:

    "Is it still possible to access Wikipedia in any way?
    Yes. During the blackout, Wikipedia is accessible on mobile devices and smart phones. You can also view Wikipedia normally by "(go find out yourself...)", as explained on this Technical FAQ page. Our purpose here isn't to make it completely impossible for people to read Wikipedia, and it's okay for you to circumvent the blackout. We just want to make sure you see our message."

  • Re:Spread the word (Score:5, Informative)

    by JWW (79176) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @01:52PM (#38740020)

    Ah, you were doing so good, right up until that "far right" part.

    If you fight the "far right" and remove them from office, you're going to be really surprised when the moderates and those on the left ram this thing through anyway.

    There are some big names on the left side of the aisle supporting this too.

    The message needs to be crystal clear ANYONE supporting this is due to be voted out, no matter what party they are in.

    One real interesting thing I've noticed here is this:

    The internet was built on technology that enabled it to route around damage and obstacles and continue functioning.


    Is the internet now such a powerful force that is has acquired the ability to route around potential damage to it in the off line world as well?

    I guess we'll find out if this is true pretty soon.

  • Re:Spread the word (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @01:53PM (#38740030)
    I hear New Zealand and Australia trade representatives have already expressed concerns. Maybe contact your own government and express your concerns so they can be aware of the issue and work the appropriate channels - if that's safe to do in your country, of course.
  • by istartedi (132515) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @02:45PM (#38740600) Journal

    According to the Daily Paul, it's not affiliated with Ron Paul.

    That said, I would be surprised if Paul supported SOPA/PIPA. Unfortunately I too find the bad outweighs the good with Ron Paul. I think a lot of his ideas are like spice. We need a dash of Ron Paul in the system; but I can't stomach a plate full of pepper.

  • Here's what (Score:4, Informative)

    by JustNiz (692889) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @02:52PM (#38740680)

    This is exactly why we need to support and vote for Ron Paul.
    He's the only politician that stands against crap like this and will reduce the power of the Fed.
    Al the other candidates are just empty suits that will be the bitches of big corps, and who support SOPA and PIPA.

  • Re:Spread the word (Score:4, Informative)

    by xombo (628858) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @03:00PM (#38740752)

    Yes. It worked out so well for net neutrality when Google got involved. []

    It's a good thing Google doesn't have any entangling business relations with media companies, like they did with carriers.

    Oh wait.

    Go ahead, sign the petition on the Google homepage. Just remember: It will be used to show populist support of the more "Google-friendly" verbiage of the exact same legislation.

  • Al Franken (Score:3, Informative)

    by programmerar (915654) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @04:13PM (#38741304) Journal

    Al Franken supports. I would've never thought. []

  • Re:Spread the word (Score:5, Informative)

    by symbolset (646467) * on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @04:51PM (#38741586) Journal
    Jimmy Wales [] just announced on twitter that the entire House of Representatives system is down. They appear to be having technical difficulty keeping up with the response.

Uncertain fortune is thoroughly mastered by the equity of the calculation. - Blaise Pascal