Today's Stack Overflow system message reads:
SOPA is a dangerous law. It breaks the Internet and threatens sites like Stack Overflow. Protect the Internet!
How is it a threat to Stack Overflow?
It's probably not the politicians themselves more than it is intense lobbying from Big Media. My position is that major media companies like Viacom are pressuring politicians (with money, perhaps even political or legal threats) to the point where they have essentially no choice but to follow through. We the people are being silenced by Big Media, and they are responsible for throwing the copyright system out of balance. A major organization called CCIA, which represents major computer and telecom companies, opposes SOPA as well. We need to stand up and fight back.
SOPA would result in censorship and make every website potentially vulnerable to being blocked. There are better ways to handle piracy, and the DMCA is already a robust means of handling infringing material. The President and CEO of CCIA, Ed Black, said this after the House Judiciary Committee hearing on SOPA (emphasis added):
To answer this question, yes, Stack Exchange is affected, and just one suspicious question, answer, or comment on any Stack Exchange site can cause all of the Stack Exchange sites to become blocked. As noted by Ed Black, this bill is essentially useless on actual, bad-faith pirate sites:
SOPA is bad for anyone who uses & depends upon the Internet. Hyperbole? No.
Brad Feld, a former entrepreneur-turned VC, has written a letter to be sent to our (I live in Colorado also) senators and has, through the post below, asked other CO entrepreneurs to become co-signatories prior to sending it.
As stated by Joel, Brad and dozens of others, the DMCA supplies copyright-holders remedies while providing safe harbor to hosting entities. This is fair, reasonable and practical. SOPA, in contrast, is unbalanced, unfair and would make it practically impossible for a hosting entity, such as StackExchange, Freepository, GitHub, or even Brad's own feld.com to conduct business without undue vetting, filtering and policing of content. It would place enormous legal & technical risk upon hosters, so much so that many (most?) would be unable to start, or if already going, to survive such a takedown action.
While the letter Brad penned is intended for Colorado's senators, perhaps it could be used as a basis for other such letters by StackExchange readers.
Editing to include another open letter from over on the O'Reilly blog - jbminn
Editing once more to include this analysis by Lawrence Tribe, Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard, who states SOPA violates the First Amendment - jbminn
I've posted this as comments, but it's really an answer to the question:
It empowers the Attorney General to take down sites that are infringing (section 102.b). However, the Attorney General must first send notice to the operators that s/he is going to proceed.
It empowers the Court System to take down sites that are infringing (section 102.c). Again, notice must be sent to the site operators giving them a chance to respond.
There are a few things to note:
The first is the laws stated purpose: to stop foreign internet sites whose primary purpose is engaging in trafficking of copyrighted material. Just search the document for terms "domestic" and "foreign" and see what it's talking about.
Second, this does not impact the DMCA.
Third, it does NOT mean that some random joe can simply complain and have a site taken completely off line. They are going to have to go through either the Attorney General or the Courts. Based on the language of the proposed law, both are going to look at whether the site in question derives its revenues primarily off of stolen copyrighted content.
The Stack Exchange sites obviously don't. Not only that they are DOMESTIC sites and pretty well excluded from the bill.
To sum up, the "internet" is not going to be broken by this.
This may be mostly opinion, I don't know, but it seems that many of the technology-affecting laws that find themselves under consideration at the national level in the U.S. are written, bought and paid for by the entertainment industry (MPAA and RIAA) and wind up trampling individual's rights as well as established fair-use doctrine.
This proposal is no different from that perspective.
So, given what has been stated above, would not a possible solution to SOPA be host applications like stackoverflow outside of the US and beyond the control of the US government? Or is the fact that the company behind those servers is still based in the US make this approach null and void?
In other words, does the proposed bill target the company hosting the information or the physical information itself?
The American Censorship link includes a lot of information about what this US law would change and how it would affect user-generated content sites like Stack Overflow.
Currently, if someone posts copyright material to Stack Overflow, there is a well-established legal procedure (called the DMCA) that establishes how the copyright owner can get that material removed. That law, while imperfect, has done a great job of balancing the interests of copyright holders and websites that host user-generated content (like us).
So for example, right now we receive takedown notices from professors demanding that we remove technical information because they claim that students are using it to cheat, people who claim that we are posting questions that they use in job interviews, and so forth. If we took down everything somebody wanted us to take down, the Internet would be worse. Right now, under the DMCA, we require the person making the complaint to send us a complete DMCA take down notice. This must include, among other things:
This requirement deters an awful lot of people who are randomly trying to censor Stack Overflow for hosting answers that they don't find convenient.
We respond by notifying the person who posted the material, giving them a chance to make a case for why the material is non-infringing.
The important thing about DMCA is that if we follow this fairly decent procedure, we, as a website, are legally protected from the claim that we contributed to the copyright violation.
The SOPA dramatically alters the careful balance in favor of "alleged" copyright holders. It makes it impossible for websites to find a reasonable safe harbor allowing them to continue to host user-generated content. And that is life-threatening for websites like Stack Exchange.
In order to protect Stack Overflow, Super User, and Server Fault from a flood of "How do I use ssh to get around The Great Firewall of America" it is important this law does not pass.
The system message is the least intrusive method we could come up with (vs writing regexes and parsers to try to detect those questions once the law passes). I hope you understand that this was purely a technical decision.
If someone posts copyrighted material, Stack Overflow can be shut down for hosting it. Therefore they would need to somehow censor their users.