Today many websites have voluntarily taken themselves offline or censored themselves to drawn attention to and protest two pieces of potential legislation currently under consideration in the United States. SOPA and PIPA are complex pieces of legislation which have a number of provision and I encourage people to read more about them to understand their composition and implications. They have gone through multiple revisions which have added or removed various provisions and are still in a state of flux. Also, exactly what measures are or are not in each bill, and it what form they have been modified to, are not entirely clear.
Broadly, these pieces of legislation do several things. First, they provide a mechanism to create a blacklist of websites which contain copyright infringing content. Network operators and Internet service provides in the United States would be required to prevent access to these sites. Additionally, there is a separate provision restricting websites from linking to websites on the blacklist. These pieces of legislation also provide a mechanism for copyright owners to notify payment processors like banks or credit cards about an offending website and ask that the payment processors not do business with those offending sites. Furthermore. there is an anti-circumvention provision which would make it illegal to discuss technical measures which could circumvent the parts of the legislation, such as discussing technology or methods to access blacklisted websites.
While I have strong personal feelings about this legislation, this is not an appropriate venue to discuss them. However, there two aspects of SOPA and PIPA which directly impact Zoompf’s business and are of great concern. This post is to discuss those issues and why Zoompf, as a company, is against SOPA and PIPA.
Safe Harbor Provisions
Zoompf’s technology works much like a search engine. We crawl a website, copying and storing its contents in various forms, analyze it, and generate reports containing that content or links to that content. A customer or someone using our free performance scan can use Zoompf to analyze a site containing illegal copyrighted material. Zoompf would then have a copy of that material and make some of that content available in various forms.
Currently, Zoompf is protected from liability for copyright infringement done by Zoompf users under the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (specifically title 2, the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act). Other companies such as Google and even hosted blogging solutions like WordPress.com are also protected from the infringing actions of their users by these safe harbor provisions. However, both SOPA and PIPA alter these safe harbor protections. Zoompf’s liability potentially increases. Additionally, the review process which we would need to go through to resolve copyright infringement disputes would change. The exact changes to the process and their ramifications are still vague and have not been addressed by SOPA or PIPA. At this time the process appears to be much more onerous, difficult, and expensive. This is a great concern to Zoompf as it potentially increases our liability for the actions of our users while simultaneously replacing a known and proven path to resolve disputes with an unknown, unproven, and more costly path.
Definition of Foreign Website
SOPA and PIPA are only applicable to "foreign websites" or "foreign companies." This seems to make Zoompf objections moot as Zoompf Incorporated is a US company. However the definitions of "foreign websites" or "foreign companies" in these bills are not clear. For example, Zoompf runs on top of and serves content from data centers in other countries such as Germany and Singapore. These are isolated from the US in that only customers in EMEA and APJ uses these systems and content from websites scanned in those areas is not placed on Zoompf assets in the United States. Are those "foreign websites?" What if our web interface is served from one country and our database is in another? Is it a "foreign website?" It is not clear at what point, if any, a US company operates a "foreign website."
Additionally, as part of our expansion into new markets in other countries, it may be advantageous for Zoompf to create foreign subsideraries inside those countries to do business. Is a subsiderary in a foreign country wholly owned by a US company considered a "foreign company" under the provisions of SOPA and PIPA? According to our lawyers this is not clear.
Actions taken by Zoompf
Zoompf is concerned about how SOPA/PIPA alters the protections Zoompf currently enjoys under the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA. Zoompf is also concerned about how a law that targets "foreign" assets and entities applies to us as we host more and more of our computing and storage assets around the world and as we expand into other countries and new markets.
Since Zoompf is based in Atlanta GA, we telephoned both our senators: Sen. Johnny Isakson (202-224-3643) and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (202-224-3521). Both are co-sponsors of the PIPA bill in the Senate. We also telephoned Rep. Tom Price (202-225-4501) who represents our congressional distinct.
In each case we spoke with a receptionist who said they were receiving an overwhelming response about SOPA/PIPA. They asked us our information and what our concerns were. We calmly explained our specific issues with the bills and asked if there was any information about how the member of congress planned to address those issues.
Sen. Chambliss’s office said he was strongly reconsidering his position on PIPA in light all of the opposition and potential negative ramifications of the bill which had not been considered. Rep. Tom Price has not taken any public position for or against SOPA and was listening to his constituents to understand their views before taking a position. Sen. Isakson’s office did not say what the congressman was going to do to address the concerns.
That is Zoompf’s position on SOPA/PIPA. While it is still unclear what will ultimately happen we are hopefully that both SOPA and PIPA will be defeated.