It's time to shelve SOPA, PIPA

Pending bills to address online piracy and counterfeiting are technically irresponsible and err by making third-party service providers responsible for enforcement.

It is getting hard to find anyone outside of Hollywood who thinks that the two anti-piracy bills now pending in the House and the Senate are good ideas. Service providers who would be held responsible for blocking offending sites, the Internet community that is trying to secure the Domain Name System and even the Obama administration have weighed in against these ill-considered bills — and with good reason.

Both the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act and the Senate’s Protect IP Act take the wrong tack in addressing the problem of sites outside U.S. jurisdiction engaged in online piracy or counterfeiting.

Because of the difficulty in attacking the sites themselves, the bills would place responsibility for effectively taking them offline for American users on third-party service providers. The bills would ban not only direct services supporting the sites but also serving up links or advertisements for the sites.


Related coverage:

SOPA undercuts Internet security, experts say; lawmakers float alternative


This is offensive for two reasons. The first, according to people who understand the technology, is that it would interfere with DNS Security Extensions, a technology that the administration has mandated be implemented in .gov domains and that is being rolled out in many other domains as well.

“Both of these remedies involve modifying DNS responses, and that is exactly what DNSSEC is designed to prevent, no matter who is doing it,” said Cricket Liu, general manager of the Infoblox IPv6 Center of Excellence. “The bill seeks to codify something that we in the DNS community have been working to prevent for 15 years.”

The second reason is that it should not be left to search engine operators or other service providers to filter content on the Internet based on what the courts or other governmental bodies find unacceptable. It is one thing to forbid financial services for overtly illegal transactions. It is another to censor sites and block traffic in an effort to make it appear in this country as if a site does not exist.

In response to an extensive public relations campaign against the bills, the administration in January issued a statement on anti-piracy legislation.

White House keeps distance from SOPA

“While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet,” wrote the Office of Management and Budget’s IP enforcement coordinator, Victoria Espinel; U.S. CTO Aneesh Chopra; and cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt.

The writers said they recognize online piracy as a real problem but called for legislation to provide legal tools for international enforcement without resorting to censorship or interference with the Domain Name System.

The proper remedy for an offending site outside of U.S. jurisdiction is to take it down through international cooperation. This underscores the need for creating international standards of behavior for the Internet and establishing relationships for enforcing them. This is not as easy as decreeing a U.S. digital rights firewall, but there is no reason to expect that enforcement of intellectual property rights is going to be easy.

International cooperation is complex at the best of times and is undermined now by the lack of cooperation within this country, both between Congress and the president, between the House and the Senate, and between Democrats and Republicans within each house.

All of our elected officials should resign themselves now to the difficult task of crafting the appropriate legislation and agreements if they want to solve the online piracy problem.

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