So, Wikipedia is shutdown today. Reddit, ICHC and a large number of other sites will be showing their irritation at SOPA and the concepts surrounding it by joining them in going dark for between 12 and 24 hours, US time.

Annoying, isn’t it, how these international websites are going dark internationally for a US law? Well, that’s kind of a large part of the problem. How do you define a site that is under US law? Is it where the servers are hosted? Is it where the company who owns the servers are incorporated? Is it where the person who accesses the data lives?

I (in the UK) rent a virtual server from Linode that’s hosted in London. Linode are an American company. I host an episode of the Daily Show, owned by an american company. Whose copyright laws apply?

In this case, SOPA defines a “Domestic” site as one with a US registered domain name (.com/.net/.org or .us) or IP address. So because my IP address is owned by Linode, it counts as Domestic under SOPA, but also because most of the domains that point at the server (but not all) are top level domains controlled by US parties.

That may not matter, since there is a precedent for charges against British citizens being able to be brought by US companies under US law and for them to be extradited to face them.

The reason why it affects us is that it starts to make a lot of resources unviable, because it places the onus of proof of copyright onto the “host”:

The owner or operator of the site is “committing or facilitating the commission of criminal violations punishable under section 2318, 2319, 2319A, 2319B, or 2320, or chapter 90, of title 18, United States Code.” Those sections primarily deal with copyright infringement and counterfeit products.

This means that sites like Tumblr and YouTube suddenly have a problem, because instead of the person who uploads a copyrighted image, text or video being liable for committing an act of computer piracy under US law, suddenly the websites are, and since the sites are far larger, more obvious and richer targets for lawsuits it will mean the cost of running a site where people upload things starts to have to include fighting thousands of lawsuits against copyright holders, while the user who lied when they clicked the “I have permission to post this” checkbox continues to do so.

It would be interesting to see what the percentage of YouTube/Tumblr etc. uploads that are copyrighted content is, and what percentage of that can be classified as “Fair Use” and what percentage of the rest the copyright holders don’t mind being published, since it brings more exposure. In addition, a lot of posters to YouTube seem to believe they *do* have the legal permission to post things so long as they post a magic mantra about “Not claiming any copyright on any of this video or characters or anything!”. If YouTube, to take a single example, is now legally responsible for every video it hosts, the simple “I’m allowed to post this” legal figleaf stops sufficing, and they suddenly need actual legal proof of copyright, and how do you prove that?

I have a video of tea being brewed,  which I took myself with my very own iPad. It has a soundtrack which I didn’t actually have permission to use, but which I replaced with a public domain track later. I *took* the video, and I can’t legally prove my ownership beyond a sacred vow that that really is the state of the tiling in my kitchen. My video channel also includes some dancing santas and a dancing raccoon suit. The wonder and the beauty of YouTube is, in part, that it’s quick, it’s easy, and it doesn’t require you to log your original tapes with a legal authority before uploading, which is what SOPA runs the risk of requiring.

You can argue that that’s fine, because Google’s huge and can afford to fight those bills, but I host websites on my little server, and if someone with an account on my server decides to upload a jpeg owned by someone else, the idea of me being personally and legally liable for it, able to be extradited to the US for prosecution for it,  is actually terrifying.

And this is hyperbole, to some extent. It’s the ultimate extreme of what the bill would require of hosts if it was misused by the large media companies to attempt to set fire to the stable and set a sniper on the horse, long after it bolted for the hills. They say, as they always say, that the strict rules and the draconian requirements are there not to use against ordinary people, but *bad* people. You know, those other people. They said the same thing about the DMCA when that came in, and those are horribly misused to break free speech, fair use, parody and commentary already.

There’s room in the world for better piracy controls and especially education on what copyright actually *is* and how and why it’s enforced, and for real actual *change* from both sides on how intellectual property and pure-digital creations can have proven ownership, but SOPA and its associated bills are a really bad idea that only really benefit the international mega-global media corporations who lobbied for it, and not just for the US, but for every person in every country that uses a US-based site and looks at cat pictures on the internet.