A developer who calls himself T Rizk doesn't have much faith in Congress making the right decision on anti-piracy legislation, so he's built a work around for the impending censorship measures being considered: DeSOPA. The Firefox add-on is stunningly simple as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) would block specific domain names (e.g. www.thepiratebay.com) of allegedly infringing sites, T Rizk's lightweight tool allows you to revert to the bare internet protocol (IP) address (e.g. 126.96.36.199) which takes you to the same place. “I feel that the general public is not aware of the gravity of SOPA and Congress seems like they are about to cater to the special interests involved, to the detriment of Internet, for which I and many others live and breathe," T Rizk told the site TorrentFreak -- and you can pretty easily guess whose side they're on. If that doesn't work, TorrentFreak points to another developer-made anti-SOPA solution that's also in the works. Meanwhile, Rep. Darrell Issa is busy rallying developers behind his transparent laboratory for digital democracy, as Reddit-types continue to flood the Internet with protest memes (like the one above).
As the number of acronyms and parentheses in our intro suggest, the technical details of SOPA are, well, pretty technical. And with the exception of anti-SOPA folks like Rep. Darrell Issa and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, most of the members of Congress now considering the legislation are not tech experts. On Friday, the House Judiciary Committee decided to table SOPA until 2012, citing the need to speak to some Internet experts, to balance out the so-far overwhelmingly Hollywood-centric testimonies we've heard so far. Civil rights groups hailed the decision as a victory, at first. That is, until committee chairman Rep. Lamar Smith scheduled a last minute hearing on Wednesday morning in an attempt to push the bill to the floor. Not long before he scheduled the hearing -- which may or may not happen depending on whether or not the larger Congress decides to break for holiday recess on Tuesday -- pro-SOPA lobbyists sent out a press release with the misleading title "Markup Shows Strong Support for SOPA." It quotes Smith, a Republican from Texas: "The criticism of this bill is completely hypothetical; none of it is based in reality. Not one of the critics was able to point to any language in the bill that would in any way harm the Internet. Their accusations are simply not supported by any facts."
This must sound insulting to SOPA's opponents. Especially because an increasing number of tech and legal experts have been stepping forward not only to wonder why Congress hasn't consulted fact-based research that examines the scope of America's piracy problem as well as the potential impact of the proposed solutions but also to argue that SOPA itself is downright unconstitutional. The latest to mount the argument against SOPA's constitutionality is the Stanford Law Review. A well-sourced article published on Monday and authored by three separate law school professors reads, in part:
This not only violates basic principles of due process by depriving persons of property without a fair hearing and a reasonable opportunity to be heard, it also constitutes an unconstitutional abridgement of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has made it abundantly clear that governmental action suppressing speech, if taken prior to an adversary proceeding and subsequent judicial determination that the speech in question is unlawful, is a presumptively unconstitutional "prior restraint." In other words, it is the "most serious and the least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights,” permissible only in the narrowest range of circumstances. The Constitution requires a court "to make a final determination" that the material in question is unlawful "after an adversary hearing before the material is completely removed from circulation."
Then there's the lack of facts in support of SOPA. We covered the problem of lawmakers not understanding the Internet last week, but this part is worth repeating:
We recently spoke to Jonathan Zittrain, a professor and cofounder of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, who maintains a number of deep concerns about the implications of SOPA, and while he's been outspoken elsewhere about the specific line items within the bill that frighten him, he told The Atlantic Wire that he was basically confused about why Congress hasn't done any real data-driven research into the problem of online piracy. "I would like to find a well-researched, peer-reviewed, credible study about the dimension of the problem this is trying to solve," Zittrain said, noting that he did not know of such a study -- and since he wrote the book on the future of the Internet, he would know if one existed. "It's costless to the aggrieved industries, so why not do it?"
Stay tuned for more updates on the seemingly neverending SOPA saga. If Smith gets his way, the House Judiciary Committee will reconvene at 9 a.m. Wednesday morning to continue marking up the bill. And we'll bet you a Buffalo-head nickel that developers, tech experts, law scholars and, well, the rest of the Internet will watch and tweet to make it clear how the groups of people that SOPA will affect most does not support this bill.