Friday, January 6, 2012

Legislating the Internet - A Look at SOPA and PIPA - Updated

There are bills wending their way through both the US Congress and Senate which aim to address the growing problem of copyright infringement online.  The bills are the Stop Online Piracy Act aka SOPA (in Congress) and the Protect IP Act aka PIPA (in the Senate). The bills' supporters describe the bills as targeting the "worst of the worst" rogue foreign sites, whose actions, they allege leads to massive losses for the US economy.

These are noble goals, but these bills are problematic, and their potential impact to internet security is substantial.  While various supporters have claimed that internet security concerns are vague hand wringing and not specific to language in the bills, but very highly respected security researchers have published specific and detailed concerns.  Further the claims of losses in the billions of dollars touted by the US Chamber of Commerce in support of this bill have been shown to originate from problematic and unreliable sources.



I'd like to talk a little bit about how these laws could impact dentistry and Brightsquid.  Advanced dentistry involves the interaction of multiple skilled professionals at disparate locations.  A general dentist, a surgeon, radiologist, and all their staff, a lab, often a milling center work together to address the patient's needs.

The internet is the perfect tool for this, in that it allows these distributed professionals to interact and share data securely, and more efficiently and effectively care for the patient.  That's our primary goal at Brightsquid.

Under the legislative framework today, Brightsquid is protected by the concept of "safe harbor".  That is, if a user of Brightsquid uploads an infringing piece of content, the copyright owner first notifies us of the infringing content.  If we take it down within a given timeframe, we cannot be subject to any further actions.

Under the proposed legislation, Brightsquid can be subject to severe actions including being cutoff from payment networks, having our domains blocked and being delisted from search engines without prior notice due to actions of our users.  As Brightsquid grows to support more media types for uploaded content (support for video, for example is on our roadmap), our risk only increases under this proposed legislation.

This would have a substantial effect on us and our users.  It would require us to proactively review uploaded content in an attempt to find copyright infringement, and it would increase our operational risk.  Both of these would drive up our cost substantially.  The effect on our competitors would be similar.

Further, the proposed legislation potentially places the uploader not just under civil liability, but criminal as well.

Content infringement online is an issue the must be dealt with, but not at any cost.  A more balanced approach is needed.  The proposed legislations impose huge operational costs and risk on sites like Brightsquid that are based on user-generated content.  In the end, these could cost the economy more than is saved from prevented infringement.

UPDATE

Both pieces of legislation discussed in this article have failed to pass. On January 18, 2012, shortly after the initial version of this article was published, several major sites, including Wikipedia and Reddit both blacked out their sites, presenting only a message about the problems with these bills.  Several other major sites, including Google, Flickr and Mozilla displayed prominent messages on their sites (more details can be found here).  In the wake of these protests, both bills were indefinitely postponed and are now considered effectively dead.

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