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The Important Reason to Block Sopa From Becoming Law

The web community is currently in an apprehensive uproar over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which threatens to create an Internet blacklist that operates at the DNS level in a misguided attempt to curb piracy.

The web community is currently in an apprehensive uproar over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which threatens to create an Internet blacklist that operates at the DNS level in a misguided attempt to curb piracy. It’s bad news — many of Silicon Valley’s largest tech companies are speaking out against it, and Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt just went on the record calling it draconian and censorship.

the important reason to block SOPA from becoming law Now the folks over at SendWrite, a startup that makes it easy to quickly send people physical letters (no stamp-licking required), is offering to extend its services to anyone who would like to send their Congressperson a real, physical letter denouncing SOPA. Free of charge.

The service is easy to use: go to this page, select your congressperson from the drop-down menu, and fill in a personal message (it gives you a rough outline on what you should consider including, as well as some additional tips).

Enter your return address (you should provide a real one, or the Congressperson may not pay attention to it), and you’re set — SendWrite will print it out and send it. You’ll even see a preview of what your words will look like once they’re printed out on a card.

SendWrite is offsetting the costs of the campaign by prompting users to make donations.

Here’s a look at how some real, popular, and important sites could be affected by this legislation if it passes. We’ve even included a sample notice showing how IP rightsholders might target regular sites. To be clear: we don’t believe that the way these websites operate is or should be subject to legal threat — that’s one reason it’s so important to block SOPA from becoming law. Etsy
Etsy is an online marketplace for handmade goods, where users can set up a storefront and create listings for things they’ve made.  There are over 800,000 active “shops” filled with these handmade goods — far too many for {Etsy} to monitor manually. Further, because of the eclectic nature of goods listed, it’s difficult to technically filter through the objects listed.

All that means that it’s not feasible for Etsy to proactively prevent listings that may be perceived to violate US copyright or trademark law.  That’s a problem, because  under {SOPA}, anybody who is a “holder of an intellectual property right harmed by the activities” of even a portion of the site, could serve Etsy’s payment processors with a notice that would require them to suspend Etsy’s service within 5 days. That means that a trademark violation in one of the storefronts could lead to payment suspension across the entire site. Unlike DMCA notices, which should be targeted to specific infringements, payment provider suspensions will likely target entire accounts.  And even if Etsy protests, the bill’s vigilante provisions, which grant them immunity for choking off a site if they have a “reasonable” belief that a portion of a site enable infringement, give the payment processors a strong incentive to cut them off anyway. Flickr
Flickr describes itself as “almost certainly the best online photo management and sharing application in the world”. It hosts billions of images from millions of users. It’s valuable not just to people with images to host, but also for people looking for images to license and use.

Like Etsy, Flickr takes copyright issues seriously, and complies with DMCA safe harbor requirements by taking down photos when it gets a valid complaint, establishing a repeat infringer policy, etc.. But it doesn’t proactively monitor its user-generated content for copyright infringement. The language of SOPA is vague enough that an individual or corporate rightsholder could claim this lack of monitoring as “taking … deliberate actions to avoid confirming a high probability of the use of the … site to carry out acts that constitute a violation.”  Flickr uses an ad network to place advertisements, and accepts payments for premium accounts. Both of those revenue streams could be suspended in a matter of days by a single complaint, and the process of reactivating them could be long and complex. Vimeo
Vimeo is a video hosting site that focuses on original content by filmmakers and video creators. Although it’s not the most popular video site on the web, it’s been the first to release some widely emulated features, and has an engaged community.

One element of having a creative and engaged community, though, is that some videos are likely to rely on fair use claims. That category includes the “lip dub”-style videos that {Vimeo popularized}, and for which Capitol Records sued the company two years ago.  One section of that lawsuit claims that {Vimeo} “actively promotes and induces that infringement” — under SOPA, that accusation alone would be grounds to cut them off from their payment provider.

Some rightsholders would prefer that all user-generated content sites implement content identification systems like YouTube’s Content ID. However, those sorts of systems come with problems of their own, and are expensive to develop and put in place.

Here’s worse news: SOPA could hurt the sites you count on now, but many of these sites will at least have the budgets to hire lawyers to fight back. But what about the small sites of today and innovators of tomorrow? Under SOPA, they may never get off the ground – and the Internet will be a less interesting place as a result. Act now so Internet innovation and expression doesn’t become collateral damage in Big Media’s losing battle against online infringement!

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