SOPA/PIPA Copyright Bills Also Target American Sites

The tech and civil liberties communities have been fighting proposed copyright legislation. Critics have argued that the proposed legislation would break the Internet, create the Great Firewall of America, and lead to censorship while doing little to stop piracy itself. The bills are called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate.

The point of this post is more narrow than explaining all that is wrong with the bills. It responds to one particular argument: defenders of SOPA and PIPA keep saying that the legislation would not affect domestic sites. They say that the bills only affect foreign infringing sites like The Pirate Bay and MegaUpload.

Unfortunately, they’re wrong. They’re wrong for at least three reasons.

First: The bills apply to the many American sites that have domestic and foreign domain names. This means Google.ca, Amazon.co.uk, and all the other foreign sites registered to American companies. (See the marked up version of PIPA, page 33, and the Manager’s Amendment to SOPA page 4. To understand the reference to registrar and registry, see definitions here.) The definition of a “website” in the bill includes even a “portion” of the site. So if even a few pages on Amazon.co.uk include copyright-infringing material, such as used bootleg CDs, then Amazon would have to respond to the bill.

Second: The bills’ anti-circumvention provisions don’t even pretend to limit the bills to foreign sites. They clearly apply to American sites. Any tool that helps anyone “circumvent” the bills’ remedies are illegal. Since the bills’ remedies include domain-name breaking and removal from search engines, any American sites that permit you to search for, or find, The Pirate Bay’s new domain name is potentially liable for circumvention. At least some people will tell you where to find The Pirate Bay, and they will use their Facebook status, their Twitter posts, their Tumblr, their blog on WordPress or Blogger, a Youtube video, or a webpage indexed by Google to do it. That means all of those American sites displaying the information might be subject to SOPA and PIPA as anti-circumvention tools. The language is pretty vague, but it appears all these companies must monitor their sites for anti-circumvention so they are not subject to court actions “enjoining” them from continuing to provide “such product or service.” What “product or  service” might be shut down?  The language is unclear. What could be shut down is the particular tweet or the entire Twitter service; one video or all of YouTube . (If it were just one tweet or video, the existing laws, such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act would suffice, so the proposed law may be read more expansively.) (For evidence of this point, read the marked up PIPA, page 42, and the Manager’s Amendment to SOPA, pages 20-21.) Apparently, the SOPA/PIPA supporters are saying there’s “immunity”; they mean YouTube and Twitter wouldn’t pay damages-fees for circumvention. But YouTube and Twitter could be shut down. They would be “enjoined” from providing service, whatever that means. That’s an even bigger threat than damages.

Third: Beyond the first two, the enforcement provisions regarding even The Pirate Bay obviously impose a burden almost exclusively on American companies. Search companies have to remove links from their search engine, imposing compliance costs. This applies to Google, Bing, Yahoo, StumbleUpon, and also to smaller search engines like Blekko. The American domain-name providers must break the connection between some domains and IP addresses. This applies to large and small American DNS-providers alike. And the advertising and payment processing provisions apply to American companies. (For evidence, note even the bills’ defenders admit the bills will commandeer American intermediaries to target foreign sites. Indeed  it deliberately commandeers American intermediary companies not involved in any infringement.)

So, for these three reasons, the sites burden American sites and American speech.

In fact, I don’t think ThePirateBay.org and MegaUpload.com are even covered by the bills–despite all the invective against them. The bills define foreign sites based on their domain names, and .ORG and .COM are not foreign.

But it would not end the story if the legislation only targeted foreign sites: the First Amendment protects Americans’ ability to access non-infringing foreign speech no less than it protects our ability to access domestic speech. It protects our right to read books by Voltaire, Vaclav Havel, or James Joyce no less than our right to read Milton Friedman, Scott Fitzgerald, and Sabina Murray.

(Note: in addition to loving the Internet and being a long-time free speech lawyer and scholar, I also now represent some tech companies, some of which are on record against these bills. Also, if I misunderstood the import of the bills’ language in some way, I am happy to correct.)

59 thoughts on “SOPA/PIPA Copyright Bills Also Target American Sites

  1. [...] large and small, may be hit by the bills if they pass Congress. Ammori explains his views in a recent article where he lists three scenarios under which American websites could be [...]

  2. [...] large and small, may be hit by the bills if they pass Congress. Ammori explains his views in a recent article where he lists three scenarios under which American websites could be [...]

  3. [...] large and small, may be hit by the bills if they pass Congress. Ammori explains his views in a recent article where he lists three scenarios under which American websites could be [...]

  4. [...] large and small, may be hit by the bills if they pass Congress. Ammori explains his views in a recent article where he lists three scenarios under which American websites could be [...]

  5. [...] a First Amendment attorney affiliated with Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet Society, noted that SOPA and Protect IP target U.S.-based Web sites as well. Supporters “say that the bills [...]

  6. [...] a First Amendment attorney affiliated with Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet Society, noted that SOPA and Protect IP target U.S.-based Web sites as well. Supporters “say that the bills [...]

  7. [...] SOPA/PIPA Copyright Bills Also Target American Sites [...]

  8. [...] Ammori.org – SOPA/PIPA Copyright Bills Also Target American Sites [...]

  9. [...] a good explanation for why, if that’s true, so many of them are lining up against it. It seems pretty clear from all that we’ve read that it will indeed effect U.S. sites. (And if didn’t, why [...]

  10. [...] Ammori over at his blog explains how the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP (PIPA) acts do in fact affect [...]

  11. [...] a good explanation for why, if that's true, so many of them are lining up against it. It seems pretty clear from all that we've read that it will indeed effect U.S. sites. (And if didn't, why would [...]

  12. [...] First Amendment expert Marvin Ammori points out, “The language is pretty vague, but it appears all these companies must monitor their sites for [...]

  13. [...] provision, which would make it illegal to inform users how to access blocked sites. According to First Amendment expert Marvin Ammori, a Legal Fellow with the New America Foundation Open Technology Initiative and an Affiliate [...]

  14. [...] provision, which would make it illegal to inform users how to access blocked sites. According to First Amendment expert Marvin Ammori, a Legal Fellow with the New America Foundation Open Technology Initiative and an Affiliate Scholar [...]

  15. [...] First Amendment expert Marvin Ammori points out, “The language is pretty vague, but it appears all these companies must monitor their sites for [...]

  16. [...] SOPA jeopardizes the open beauty if the internet, which in turn could jeopardize your use of the internet. [...]

  17. [...] as violating its main provisions. In other words: if your status update links to The Pirate Bay, Facebook would be legally obligated to remove it. Ditto tweets, YouTube videos, Tumblr or WordPress posts, or sites indexed by Google. [...]

  18. [...] first Amendment expert Marvin Ammori points out, “The language is pretty vague, but it appears all these [...]

  19. [...] First Amendment expert Marvin Ammori points out, “The language is pretty vague, but it appears all these companies must monitor their sites for [...]

  20. [...] as violating its main provisions. In other words: if your status update links to The Pirate Bay, Facebook would be legally obligated to remove it. Ditto tweets, YouTube videos, Tumblr or WordPress posts, or sites indexed by Google. [...]

  21. [...] First Amendment expert Marvin Ammori points out, “The language is pretty vague, but it appears all these companies must monitor their sites [...]

  22. [...] as violating its main provisions. In other words: if your status update links to The Pirate Bay, Facebook would be legally obligated to remove it. Ditto tweets, YouTube videos, Tumblr or WordPress posts, or sites indexed by Google. [...]

  23. [...] of unbiased data and rhetorical conflation.  Also, these bills may not be intended to, but they would impact U.S. sites.  Congressmen spearheading both bills have been influenced heavily by campaign donations from the [...]

  24. [...] First Amendment expert Marvin Ammori points out, “The language is pretty vague, but it appears all these companies must monitor their sites for [...]

  25. [...] First Amendment expert Marvin Ammori points out, “The language is pretty vague, but it appears all these companies must monitor their sites [...]

  26. [...] as violating its main provisions. In other words: if your status update links to The Pirate Bay, Facebook would be legally obligated to remove it. Ditto tweets, YouTube videos, Tumblr or WordPress posts, or sites indexed by Google. [...]

  27. [...] as violating its main provisions. In other words: if your status update links to The Pirate Bay, Facebook would be legally obligated to remove it. Ditto tweets, YouTube videos, Tumblr or WordPress posts, or sites indexed by Google. [...]

  28. [...] Amendment expert Marvin Ammori points out, “The language is pretty vague, but it appears all these companies must monitor their sites [...]

  29. [...] hosting copyrighted material.  If your social networking status update links to The Pirate Bay, Facebook would be legally obligated to remove it.   Same goes for tweets, YouTube videos, Tumblr  and even WordPress posts (my blog! [...]

  30. [...] prior restraint against protected speech.” Marvin Ammori, a First Amendment lawyer, suggested that “social media sites like Facebook or YouTube—basically any site with user generated [...]

  31. [...] as violating its main provisions. In other words: if your status update links to The Pirate Bay, Facebook would be legally obligated to remove it. Ditto tweets, YouTube videos, Tumblr or WordPress posts, or sites indexed by Google. [...]

  32. [...] First Amendment expert Marvin Ammori points out, “The language is pretty vague, but it appears all these companies must monitor their sites for [...]

  33. [...] First Amendment expert Marvin Ammori points out, “The language is pretty vague, but it appears all these companies must monitor their sites for [...]

  34. [...] First Amendment expert Marvin Ammori points out, “The language is pretty vague, but it appears all these companies must monitor their sites for [...]

  35. [...] as violating its main provisions. In other words: if your status update links to The Pirate Bay, Facebook would be legally obligated to remove it. Ditto tweets, YouTube videos, Tumblr or WordPress posts, or sites indexed by Google. [...]

  36. [...] First Amendment expert Marvin Ammori points out, “The language is pretty vague, but it appears all these companies must monitor their sites for [...]

  37. [...] First Amendment expert Marvin Ammori points out, “The language is pretty vague, but it appears all these companies must monitor their sites for [...]

  38. [...] First Amendment expert Marvin Ammori points out, “The language is pretty vague, but it appears all these companies must monitor their sites for [...]

  39. [...] as violating its main provisions. In other words: if your status update links to The Pirate Bay, Facebook would be legally obligated to remove it. Ditto tweets, YouTube videos, Tumblr or WordPress posts, or sites indexed by Google. [...]

  40. [...] e intermediário Facebook. Embora a linguagem nas contas é bastante vago, muitos especialistas argumentam que a SOPA e PIPA forçaria as empresas dos EUA como o YouTube eo Facebook para gastar tempo e [...]

  41. Austin Hoffman says:

    This is just terrible….SOPA is the equivalent of curing a headache with a guillotine. It may stop piracy, but it would shut down our economy and unconstitutionally erode our most basic freedoms in the process.

    I just hope that everyone realizes how important this is and does their part to save the internet & our economy! …here is another good video that explains the consequences of SOPA pretty well:

    http://www.peeje.com/peeje-goes-strike-stop-web-censorship-bills-congress-209/

    1,000s of more websites have joined the force and went dark today, we need EVERYONES help!!!!

  42. [...] direitos autorais. Em outras palavras: se você publica no Facebook um link do Pirate Bay, o Facebook estaria obrigado legalmente a removê-lo. O mesmo com tuítes, vídeos no YouTube, posts no Tumblr e no WordPress ou sites indexados no [...]

  43. [...] as violating its main provisions. In other words: if your status update links to The Pirate Bay, Facebook would be legally obligated to remove it. Ditto tweets, YouTube videos, Tumblr or WordPress posts, or sites indexed by Google. [...]

  44. [...] the action that breaks the law.” Before you claim that US companies are safe, take a look at this piece, which does a good job of reminding us that sites like google.ca or amazon.co.uk are still [...]

  45. [...] as violating its main provisions. In other words: if your status update links to The Pirate Bay, Facebook would be legally obligated to remove it. Ditto tweets, YouTube videos, Tumblr or WordPress posts, or sites indexed by Google. [...]

  46. [...] এমোরি, ইন্টারনেট পলিসি এক্সপার্ট, তার ব্লগে জানাচ্ছেন, ‘আইনের ভাষা অস্বচ্ছ, [...]

  47. [...] direitos autorais. Em outras palavras: se você publica no Facebook um link do Pirate Bay, o Facebook estaria obrigado legalmente a removê-lo. O mesmo com tuítes, vídeos no YouTube, posts no Tumblr e no WordPress ou sites indexados no [...]

  48. [...] First Amendment expert Marvin Ammori points out, “The language is pretty vague, but it appears all these companies must monitor their sites for [...]

  49. [...] as violating its main provisions. In other words: if your status update links to The Pirate Bay, Facebook would be legally obligated to remove it. Ditto tweets, YouTube videos, Tumblr or WordPress posts, or sites indexed by Google. [...]

  50. [...] as violating its main provisions. In other words: if your status update links to The Pirate Bay, Facebook would be legally obligated to remove it. Ditto tweets, YouTube videos, Tumblr or WordPress posts, or sites indexed by Google. [...]

  51. [...] as violating its main provisions. In other words: if your status update links to The Pirate Bay, Facebook would be legally obligated to remove it. Ditto tweets, YouTube videos, Tumblr or WordPress posts, or sites indexed by Google. [...]

  52. [...] First Amendment expert Marvin Ammori points out, “The language is pretty vague, but it appears all these companies must monitor their sites for [...]

  53. [...] as violating its main provisions. In other words: if your status update links to The Pirate Bay, Facebook would be legally obligated to remove it. Ditto tweets, YouTube videos, Tumblr or WordPress posts, or sites indexed by Google. [...]

  54. [...] experto en la Primer Enmienda, Marvin Ammori señaló [en], “La redacción es sumamente vaga, pero parece que todas estas compañías deben monitorear [...]

  55. [...] direitos autorais. Em outras palavras: se você publica no Facebook um link do Pirate Bay, o Facebook estaria obrigado legalmente a removê-lo. O mesmo com tuítes, vídeos no YouTube, posts no Tumblr e no WordPress ou sites indexados no [...]

  56. [...] as violating its main provisions. In other words: if your status update links to The Pirate Bay, Facebook would be legally obligated to remove it. Ditto tweets, YouTube videos, Tumblr or WordPress posts, or sites indexed by Google. [...]

  57. [...] as violating its main provisions. In other words: if your status update links to The Pirate Bay, Facebook would be legally obligated to remove it. Ditto tweets, YouTube videos, Tumblr or WordPress posts, or sites indexed by Google. [...]

  58. [...] as violating its main provisions. In other words: if your status update links to The Pirate Bay, Facebook would be legally obligated to remove it. Ditto tweets, YouTube videos, Tumblr or WordPress posts, or sites indexed by Google. [...]

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