January 18, 2012

SOPA’s potentially chilling effect on public debate

SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) is getting blasted all over the Internet. Even so, one of its major dangers has not yet been widely discussed. People seem to realize that SOPA can create censorship by governments, or businesses, or as collateral damage when governments and businesses pursue other interests. But they may not yet grasp that SOPA can allow individuals to stifle free speech as well.

To quote the owner of a popular sports fan discussion forum (emphasis mine):

The problem is several of the provisions in SOPA will force ISPs hosting websites (ie: the company that hosts our servers) to potentially disconnect us from the Internet if there‚Äôs a claim – unsubstantiated or not – that we’re infringing against copyright, regardless of if it has not been fully proved in court. The argument is that this would make it easy for someone to make false or weak claims against the site to take a us offline until we went to court.

That’s a headache I’m not prepared to deal with. The number of threats I get each year via e-mail from angry members from other teams we remove are pretty unreal and obviously you guys don’t see them, so giving any additional ammunition backed up by a law like this would be a potentially huge issue. I’ve been talking with other sites and it’s a very real concern that we’re all potentially going to be faced with if this goes through, unless it’s rewritten to better target the sites that are really the ones they’re looking to address.

And that’s just from the passions of sports fandom. The passions of the politics — or the commercial interests of those being criticized — are of even greater concern.

Indeed, SOPA-like legislation creates an easy way to take down any forum, blog, or other site that allows user-generated content: flood it with copyrighted content, then run to the regulators. We must never, ever, ever accept a legal regime in which publishers may be censored before they are PROVED to be guilty of wrongdoing.


8 Responses to “SOPA’s potentially chilling effect on public debate”

  1. Mike Beckerle on January 19th, 2012 11:31 am

    The problem here is the word “PROVED”.

    In other areas of intellectual property, i.e., patents, if you think someone is infringing your patent then you have to go to a judge and present sufficient evidence to get an injunction issued forcing the allegedly infringing party to stop practicing your patent or license it from you. The standard for these injunctions is very high, i.e., one party usually can’t do it. The judge will want the alleged infringer’s arguments for why they believe they are not infringing, and will weigh them before issuing an injunction.

    This is not the same as requiring “proof” in a court of law, but it is a reasonable standard based on real evidence.

    I would not be opposed to something analogous to the above for copyrighted materials on the Internet. I have not read SOPA in detail so I don’t know the degree of burden of proof it requires. People talk as if an unsubstantiated accusation is all that is required to shut someone down, and I very much doubt that would ever be implemented anywhere. (If that’s in fact in SOPA, then it truly is brain-dead. But I suspect it is not.)

    In between unsubstantiated claim, versus “proven”, there really is a spectrum. These are all different points on the spectrum from unsubstantiated to proven from least burden of proof, to greatest burden of proof:

    unsubstantiated claim,

    evidence from one party must be filed with some agency.

    evidence from one party will be examined by some authority/inspector

    evidence from one party will be weighed by a judge,

    both parties are invited to present evidence, but if only one party presents any, that is still weighed by a judge,

    evidence from both parties is required and will be weighed by a judge

    decision of a jury

    admission of infringement

    The right thing for IP/Copyright infringement is something like 4, maybe 5. If that’s where SOPA is, I would not be opposed. If it’s down at 1 or 2, then it’s a disaster.

  2. Curt Monash on January 19th, 2012 12:11 pm

    I don’t think any one-sided procedure should be sufficient to justify censorship.

    I agree that the true bad guys would rarely participate in such a procedure, so it has to be OK to rule if they don’t show up.

    I like Ars Technica’s idea of focusing on the flow of funds rather than actual censorship. Wrongfully depriving somebody of money is less of a horror than wrongfully gagging them.

  3. Curt Monash on October 17th, 2014 4:13 pm

    OK. I gave this thread as the #2 fallback in case a forum I like, KFFL, suddenly disappears. I suspect that may have happened, and my #1 fallback turns out to be a thread in another forum that has been locked. So this may be the place to regroup.

    And I’ll see if I can get nonsportstalk.com set up soon. Please don’t go there until I post a clearer note here saying it’s up.

  4. Curt Monash on November 5th, 2014 7:36 am

    I’ve had some medical issues in the family, so I haven’t been eager to set up a new site. But now KFFL is down again; let’s see whether it comes back up.

  5. Curt Monash on February 19th, 2015 1:07 pm

    Another KFFL outage at the moment. If this proves more than temporary, I’ll try to get an alternate site up promptly, and we can coordinate in this thread until then.

  6. Zig on February 21st, 2015 4:04 pm

    I signed up on KFFL but never got an activation email so I’ll put this here, maybe you can share on KFFL…My fairly new site(sportschatter) has been mentioned as a possible new home for you guys if KFFL goes away but I wanted to cordially invite you guys myself. It’s kind of a home for wayward posters with so many sites closing up and others being too ban happy…Right now it’s mostly former CBS and FanNation posters that either didnt like or were banned from Hoopla…I have given both groups their own private area and would do the same for you KFFLers…You can run it how you want, my only rule in there would concern pics having to be PG_13 but we do have a NSFW area,.. And they dont get used much yet but we have team boards for all MLB and NFL teams. I can easily add NBA and NHL team boards if they would get used. We also have an area for non sports related stuff where you can talk about just about anything. I am mostly looking for “good” posters but we also have some “Anything goes” areas where again the only rule is about pics…”Something for everyone” is our motto which is why some areas are more moderated than others but it’s also so we don’t have to ban anyone…If need be, constant problem posters will be “restricted” to the hidden “anything goes” areas but even that hasn’t happened to anyone yet. You pretty much have to want to be banned to actually get banned. Actually I could already use some experienced Mods so if you are a mod on KFFL let me know.

    Some cool features we offer:

    You earn fake money just for posting. You can use the money to buy things in our store, you can invest in the fake stock market or just put it in the fake bank. We also have contests where you “buy in” with the fake money and the winner(s) win the pot. And during the NFL season you can “bet” on the games.

    Many different themes/skins to choose from if you don’t like the default colors.

    You can get an alert when someone replies to or “likes” one of your posts

    very easy to post pics/vids/gifs

    tons of smileys

    favorite team logos(up to 8) on your profile…

    easy to navigate once you get the hang of it and there is a thread in the “welcome new members” area that explains pretty much everything about the site

    The Admin (Me)is not a troll that will ban you for replying lol I’d rather just be a poster, I dont do this for any other reasons than someone has too…I’m very easy going, easy to get along with…

    Anyway, we’d love the company if you guys end up needing a place where you can keep your group intact…that’s what we’re all about…

    Thanks for reading, “Zig” (PS don’t believe what Hammer says about me/my site. That guy is full of…it. As you probably already know ha ha

  7. Curt Monash on February 22nd, 2015 3:47 am

    Hi Zig,

    Thanks for posting. You certainly seem to provide more technology than I’d bother with. :) If I do it myself, it will be bare-bones.

  8. Zig on February 23rd, 2015 2:55 pm

    ha ha well it’s most of it was pretty easy to add. I’m not much of a techie/nerd, trust me. If you want to start a board yourself check out proboards…I tried a few of the “Free” hosting sites and imo PB is the best by far. That’s basically what my site is but I “upgraded” to their paid version to get rid of their content restrictions. But it’s a lot of headaches involved in running the joint so be prepared if you do it… everybody wants something different, they’ll all bitch to you..I’d much rather just “post” but someone has to deal with everything lol…Anyway hopefully your board doesn’t go away…I know how bad that sucks…Take care, Zig

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