Supporters of SOPA and PIPA, two bills that aim to deter piracy, claim that they will only affect foreign sites and businesses. However, this view is not shared by a wide range of opponents, including the people behind the popular Reddit community. But how exactly can SOPA and PIPA threaten sites like Reddit? Leading First Amendment lawyer and Internet policy expert Marvin Ammori explains.
In recent weeks, protests against the pending SOPA and PIPA bills have dominated the tech press. Most opponents are not that worried about losing access to their favorite file-sharing sites, but they fear that the broader implications of the bills will seriously hurt the livelihoods of both existing and future Internet-based ventures.
One of the most prominent sites that has rallied against the bills is the largest online community Reddit. The site’s users have organized various successful protests, which led domain registrar GoDaddy to drop its support for the bill. But the site itself also actively encouraged its users to speak out against SOPA and PIPA on several occasions.
For the site’s staff, taking a political stand is very much a matter of self-preservation. Reddit’s general manager Erik Martin recently said that the bill would “almost certainly mean the end” of the popular site.
Strong words, but First Amendment lawyer and Internet policy expert Marvin Ammori tells TorrentFreak that it’s certainly not far-fetched. While some SOPA and PIPA supporters say that Reddit is safe because the bills only target foreign sites, Ammori disagrees.
The former law professor says that thousands of US businesses, 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 targeted.
“Reddit is most likely to be illegal under the second category as anti-circumvention,” Ammori tells us. This means that should The Pirate Bay be declared illegal under the new laws, any US-based site or service that talks about gaining access to the site via the various loopholes, breaks the law as well.
“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,” Ammori reasons.
“I think if the community posts an article and votes for an article that helps people get to a targeted site, perhaps by listing the target site’s IP-address or new domain name, then Reddit itself might be ‘a product or service designed or marketed for the circumvention or bypassing of measures’. The copyright industry might argue that Reddit’s products (links) are designed or marketed by Reddit or by users ‘in concert with’ Reddit.”
Reading the above it’s clear that the current language of the bills could indeed have far-reaching consequences. Not just for Reddit, but for every site or service that relies on user-based input. Perhaps even for TorrentFreak, should we report on how people are making tools that can circumvent SOPA and PIPA.
And what about VPN providers? Or TOR? The list of potential targets goes on and on.
Supporters of the bill have pointed out that these fears are not justified, and they promise that the bills will only be used to take out the bad apples. But if that’s really the case, wouldn’t it be a good idea to draft the law in a way that makes it absolutely clear that only rogue sites are at risk? Just a thought.