Jan 18 Internet Blackout Protesting SOPA and PIPA

Some of the major Internet brands are going “dark” Wednesday Jan 18 to protest the US Legislature’s “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) and “Protect Intellectual Property Act” (PIPA). Both bills are intended to stop copyright violations by foreign “rogue” web sites trafficking in everything from prescription drugs to illegal movie downloads. The drug and entertainment industries, two of the most powerful lobby groups in the US, are supported by the United States Chamber of Commerce, the most powerful US lobby group.

Those protesting the legislation include Tucows, Reddit and many more. Some are turning themselves off completely for 24 hours starting at 12 midnight EST on Tuesday January 17th, while others like Wikipedia are removing all their English language pages or blacking out their logo like Google. Facebook, Craigslist, Google and many others support the protest and will provide links to more information, but are not participating in the full blackout.

Canadian businesses should care because your domain name or web site could be unilaterally blocked by US authorities without notice or recourse. A staff member downloading illegal content and inadvertently sharing that content could result in Google removing your site from it’s search results, on line advertisers pulling their advertising and PayPal refusing to accept payments. The bill encompasses Canadian businesses because all Canadian ISP’s  use IP addresses assigned by American companies and many Canadian businesses use .com, .net or .org domains managed by American companies.

The Obama administration weighed in on Saturday January 14, 2012, stating that they oppose major elements of SOPA and PIPA but the battle between copyright holders attempting to shape the Internet for their own purposes and Internet companies, civil rights organizations and others is far from over. These powerful copyright holders will not give up, and thanks to years of lobbying nationally and internationally they are in a stronger position to influence US legislation than Internet companies and others who oppose the legislation.

While we do not support illegal downloads, we do object to SOPA and PIPA because they will stifle innovation and undermine the integrity of the Internet’s naming system. The founders of Twitter, Google YouTube and many others published an open letter saying that the legislation allowed censorship on par with government regulation in China and Iran. YouTube, Google and others are also concerned that the bills make them liable for copyright infringement.

SOPA, sponsored by the US House of Representatives, blocks foreign websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement by curtailing access and inhibiting their ability to conduct business. There is no appeal process. The US Attorney General can simply seek court orders to:

  • stop online ad networks (like Google) and payment processors (like PayPal) from doing business with foreign websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement.
  • prohibit ISPs from allowing their subscribers to access these sites, and
  • prohibit search engines (like Google) from providing a direct link to them.

Similarly, PIPA, sponsored by the US Senate, targets online ad networks (like Google) and payment processors (like PayPal), but also domain name system providers like Network Solutions. By targeting DNS providers, the result will be a fragmented domain name system which compromises the structure of the Internet itself, reducing Internet stability by redirecting traffic through unreliable routes, increasing network errors and affecting sites other than those blacklisted by the American government.

PIPA will actually make the Internet less secure because it conflicts with security efforts that rely on DNS data to detect and mitigate threats. For example, many ISPs like Skyway West are adding critical security extensions to their DNS systems to offer Secure DNS (DNSSEC). Properly implemented DNSSEC guarantees that you reach the correct destination. DNSSEC relies on directing users to a site that matches their request while PIPA redirects users to sites that do not match their request.

The Internet is too important to Canadian business and Canadian innovation to ignore how special interests are trying to shape the Internet to their own benefit. Internet companies hope that tomorrow’s blackout will draw attention to the ongoing battle for control over internet content and routing practices. Last year it was Net Neutrality, today it is SOPA and PIPA, tomorrow it will be the new Canadian Copyright Act and Lawful Access, both of which will deserve their own blog post.