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Stop Online Piracy Act: an online music sharing killer?

I am reading Representative Lamar Smith’s (R-TX) proposed Stop Online Piracy Act, and it scares the heck out of me. Like the oft-criticized Protect IP Act making its way through the Senate, the House bill is ostensibly designed to stop pirate content sites by allowing the U.S. Attorney General to get a court order forcing a DNS redirect and denying them financial services (credit card access; PayPal; advertising).

But after my initial reading, Smith’s law seems much, much worse. Full of vague language, it appears tailor-made to allow big content to bully legit music sharing sites and force them to curtail their activities.

Consider these provisions. Smith’s legislation defines a site as “dedicated to theft of U.S. property” if “it is taking, or has taken, deliberate actions to avoid confirming a high probability of the use of the U.S.-directed site to carry out acts that constitute a violation” of U.S. copyright laws.

“High probability”? What the bleep does that mean?? So if a content company’s lawyer decides that your music site is relying too much on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s safe harbor provisions, is your host and your credit card company going to get a knock on the door?

Basically SOPA proposes that a complainant just has to post a notice to an ISP or financial services company that includes an explanation of “the specific facts to support the claim that the Internet site, or portion thereof, is dedicated to theft of U.S. property and to clearly show that immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage will result to the holder of the intellectual property right harmed by the activities described.”

As with the DMCA, the site in question can appeal this claim via a counter-notification, but:

Any provider of a notification or counter notification who knowingly materially misrepresents under this section—(A) that a site is an Internet site dedicated to the theft of U.S. property, or (B) that such site does not meet the criteria of an Internet site dedicated to the theft of U.S. property, shall be liable for damages, including costs and attorneys’ fees, incurred by the person injured by such misrepresentation as a result of the misrepresentation.

And even if an effective counter-notification is made, the law lets plaintiffs file personal lawsuits against the site or the site’s host. This all seems like a way to end run the DMCA’s protections for music sites against censorious copyright slapsuits, especially with that “high probability” clause tacked on.

Never mind the big guys, like Google, that understandably hate these provisions. Where does this leave sites like Mixter or Jamendo or, not to mention file and blog filled college and community radio sites?

Is Congress really going to pass this law? Very worrisome.


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