I start this post by quoting Mahatma Gandhi.

Freedom is never dear at any price. It is the breath of life.

Be it freedom against oppression or the freedom to express oneself, it’s the very fundamentals on which our nation or rather any democracy is based on. It should be the very foundation on which the leaders/politicians should rule the country. The reason why I am quoting Mahatma today, is because I see a future in which the very right of freedom of expression will be jeopardized, the very backbone of Internet.

Yes, I am referring to the much talked about Stop Online Piracy Act also commonly known as SOPA.

What is SOPA?

Here is how Wikipedia defines it.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), also known as H.R. 3261, is a bill that was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on October 26, 2011, by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) and a bipartisan group of 12 initial co-sponsors. The bill expands the ability of U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods.


Going by the definition, you might feel, what’s wrong. It’s an excellent initiative, fighting unlawful acts like piracy, drug trafficking etc. But what does it exactly mean? And why are there so many people protesting the bill?

The answer to that lies in the underlying clauses.

SOPA: Concerns

SOPA gives the right to the government agencies to block any site at its DNS (root of the site, say rather than blocking http://reddit.com/something/something , it blocks the site at http://reddit.com) and hence blocking all the content of the website, even if only a portion of website has infringing content.

Lets take an example.

Assume that I blog at http://ujjwalkanth.xyzabc123.com, I share my pictures at http://ujjwalkanth.123abcxyz.com and I have never in my life done anything that infringes any content. One day certain blogger at xyzabc123.com blogs about something that was declared as infringing and the very next day, my DNS request is blocked to xyzabc123.com and all my content is now not visible to me. All my pictures gone, all my photos lost. I most certainly had nothing to do with infringing contents, why was I blocked?

David, co-founder of weebly.com discusses this in his blog post here.

Impact on user generated content and web-hosting

SOPA imposes the liabilities to the owners of the domain for the sites which host user generated content. Websites like Youtube.com, flickr.com etc are the one which will be worst hit if this legislation passes in its current form. These websites generate a lot of legal contents but as we saw earlier if any infringing content is found on these websites (which by any means can’t be stopped as manual filtering of that much content is certainly not possible) the domain names of these sites will be removed / blocked from the registrar.

SOPA is another way to stop a Wikileaks kind of disaster:

The very reason that Wikileaks has survived for quite long is because there is no such regulation as SOPA in place to restrict the user access to these similar (whistle blowing) sites. I will not go into rights and wrongs of these sites, but rather I would say, if it were the case of my views and opinions and I would like to share them as I want. I live in democracy and I most certainly have the right.

Underground networks and proxys

Another aspect of this bill dictates that the usage of underground networks like tor and proxy servers may be banned as it might be used in promoting online piracy. The real concern is not just the immediate impact, rather the future in which other governments follow the suit and start blocking contents, not just based on piracy and copyright infringement but also on political propaganda.

Effect on VPNs and other services:

Under SOPA, it wouldn’t be just websites who would be held accountable for copyright infringement, but developers, distributors, and “enablers” as well. So, a website that hosts copyrighted content is not only in jeopardy, but also those who share copyrighted content without permission and those who try to help those who share or host copyrighted content without permission. This extension of violators means that a VPN could be considered an enabler of copyright infringement.
SOPA holds Internet companies liable for users who post infringing content or enable copyright infringement. So, if VPN company happens to host one person who uses the network to post infringing links or to download copyrighted material, then the VPN company could get shutdown for this.

Technical Issues

There are some other technical issues if SOPA is passed. Engineering pioneers who were the builders of the present day Internet have raised concerns regarding SOPA, as it might break internet as we know. (more here)

Also, there has been concerns of privacy as blocking of traffic from certain copyright infringing website would require deep packet analysis, which means the contents of each data packet will be analyzed at the service provider level (more here)

In its truest and idealistic form, SOPA can be considered as a boon against piracy, but does this justify the fact that US Judiciary committee is overlooking so many concerns. If the very fundamental rights are at stake, should the bill be passed? In my opinion the bill is terrible and break more than it mends.

So what can you do to stop SOPA?

  • Contact your Congressperson (if you are in US)
    Contact your congress person and let them know that you are against SOPA and you want them to vote against it. Explain the concerns and tell them even though on the face value, the bill may look good, but in fact it will break down the internet as we know.
  • Talk to people you know and spread awareness
    Never underestimate the power of strong public opinion. Go forth and tell each and everyone what you read here, tell them how much can change if SOPA is passed. Urge them to contact their own congressperson.
  • Talk to the employers
    A lot of tech-giants are now against SOPA. Talk to the employers whom you work under, and urge them to come out strongly against SOPA.
  • Support organizations against SOPA
    EFF has been working really hard to stop this bill. You can support them in their endeavor.

I wrote this post so that each and every reader of this blog at least understands what does SOPA actually imply. If you have any concerns/query/suggestions/opinions to share, you are heartily welcome.

– Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/)
– Analysis of SOPA by netcoalition.com (http://cdt.org/files/)
– The Atlantic (http://theatlantic.com)
– Industry Leaders Magazine (http://www.industryleadersmagazine.com)

Other Interesting Links:

– TechCrunch – Paul Graham: SOPA Supporting Companies No Longer Allowed At YC Demo Day (http://techcruhch.com) Also the discussion about this at Hacker News (http://news.ycombinator.com)
– Reddit – Move your domain day (http://www.reddit.com)
– Stackoverflow – Moves from GoDaddy, a supporter of SOPA (http://meta.stackoverflow.com) Discussion here on Hackernews (http://news.ycombinator.com)
– Arstechnica (http://arstechnica.com)
– David Rusenko’s Blog (http://david.weebly.com/)

Also Read:

A full time developer and a part time blogger, but above all a person with extreme passion about anything with a 'Tech'. You can find him at UjjwalKanth.com, and follow him at @ujjwalkanth