Practical computer tips, with a smattering of digital philosophy

Are the PROTECT IP and Stop Online Piracy (SOPA) acts irrelevant?

It seems that many of the provisions of the widely-vilified PROTECT IP (House) and Stop Online Piracy (Senate) bills may already be in operation, at least as far as the U.S. court system is concerned.  Ars Technica reports that a federal judge has decreed that “nearly 700” domain names associated with sites that are allegedly selling counterfeit Chanel goods must be immediately seized from their registrants.  What’s more, the court ordered that “all Internet search engines” and “all social media websites” must immediately remove all references to the confiscated domain names.

This saga clearly has countless interesting and troubling implications.

Among the most prominent:

  • As the Ars article points out, it would seem that the current uproar over PROTECT IP and SOPA may be a distraction from the fact that the U.S. government already permits many of the interventions spelled out in those bills.  If opponents of the bills are right that several of their provisions are blatantly unconstitutional (violating the First Amendment, Due Process clause, etc.), then the bills themselves are in some ways far less troubling than what the U.S. legal system is in fact already doing, generally without any substantial public knowledge.  Indeed, the bills may even prove to be somewhat beneficial, in that they make clear and public the rules under which cases are already being decided, and thereby allow the public to voice its profound discontent with those rules.
  • The blanket orders issued by the court in this case further testify to the extent to which the U.S. legal system is disturbingly ill-prepared to handle the complexities of applying existing law to the digital realm.  For even if the intent of the Court’s order in this case were reasonable, the broadness and of its scope and general absolutism would still be absurd.  Any order that addresses “all social media sites” and “all search engines” simply cannot be taken seriously (much less implemented) – particularly, as the Ars article points out, given that many such sites are completely outside of the purview of U.S. law.
  • The U.S. puts itself on increasingly unsteady ground in its condemnation of state-sponsored Internet censorship elsewhere when its own federal courts issue edicts to sites requiring that they “de-index and/or remove [domain names] from any search results pages.” This sounds eerily to the sort of blacklisting approach used by most authoritarian governments around the globe to restrict public access to sites that are incompatible with reining ideologies – an approach which the U.S. government ostensibly condemns, and is actively funding projects to circumvent.

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