Monday, January 30, 2012
Thursday, January 19, 2012
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Granted that Reddit will be going down tomorrow in protest of SOPA and PIPA, I felt morally obligated to mirror this post from their blog on this site so that interesting and edifying information can be properly disseminated, which, quite appropriately, the bills will infringe on greatly.
As you have probably heard, there are two pieces of legislation currently pending that we, and others like us, believe seriously threaten the internet. I wanted to take some time to delve into the text of both of these bills, and outline their potential consequences as I am able to understand them. As you can imagine, this is a complex issue, and as a result this is going to be a complex post. I highly encourage you to set some time aside to read this thoroughly. Grab some caffeine, we are going to be here for a while.
As a disclaimer, I am not a lawyer, I'm a sysadmin. The following is not legal advice, but rather an outline and personal interpretation of critical portions of the legislation. If you own or operate a site that may be affected by this legislation, I suggest having your legal counsel look at these bills. If you're a brand new startup with little to no money for legal counsel, well, best of luck to you. The internet may no longer be a friendly place.
Note: In recent news, several legislators have suggested that they will be removing the DNS provisions from both SOPA and PROTECT IP. However, those provisions still exist in the bills today, and they are likely to still be debated. For these reasons, I'm going to include the DNS provisions in this discussion.
The Sacred Texts
Much of this post will be focusing on Title 1, Sections 101, 102, and 103 of SOPA; and Sections 2, 3, and 4 of PROTECT IP. I hope to make the impact of these bills clear, however you shouldn't just blindly trust me. Here are links to the current versions of the bills provided by Library of Congress and the Government Printing Office.
- PROTECT IP (Senate) AKA Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011
- Stop Online Piracy Act (House)
One of the most important distinctions in these bills is the difference between a 'foreign site' and a 'domestic site'. The definitions try to break websites into two groups using some fairly simple language; however the results may be unexpected in several cases.
- SOPA Domestic Internet Site - A domestic site is defined as a site that corresponds to a 'domestic domain name', or if there is no domain name, a domestic IP address.1 A domestic domain name is defined as a domain registered or assigned by a registrar or other authority that is located within the United States.2 Some common examples of domestic top-level domain names are '.com', '.org', and '.us'.
- SOPA Foreign Internet Site or PROTECT IP Non-domestic domain name - A foreign site is very simply defined as a site that is not a domestic site.3 4 Under this definition, any site not using a domestic domain name is a foreign site.
- Service Provider - A service provider is defined as a service that hosts a non-authoritative DNS server.5 This includes ISPs, sites like OpenDNS, Google's public nameservers, and any other service providing a public DNS resolution server.
- Internet Advertising Services - A service that will serve, display, or "otherwise facilitate" an ad in return for compensation.6 7 This includes both services which display ads linking to sites (e.g. Google AdWords and reddit's self-serve advertising), and services which host ads on other sites (e.g. Google AdSense).
- SOPA Payment Network Provider or PROTECT IP Financial transaction provider - A service that handles payment transactions (e.g. PayPal).8 9
- SOPA Internet Search Engine - The definition of a search engine in the legislation is very wordy. What it basically comes down to is a service that provides links to other sites based on a user query or selection.10 Sites like reddit certainly fall within this definition. Other sites likely to fall within this definition are live blogs, link shorteners, wikis, and blog networks.
- PROTECT IP Information Location Tool - The definition of this is not included in PROTECT IP itself, but rather referenced to language in existing copyright law.11 The existing law doesn't explicitly define an 'information location tool', but instead gives some extremely broad examples.12 It boils down to any service that displays links or 'pointers'.
- SOPA U.S. Directed Sites - A site, or portion thereof, that is used to conduct business or provide services to U.S. residents.13 "Service" is not explicitly defined.
- Qualifying Plaintiff - A holder of intellectual property who is harmed by the activity of a foreign infringing site.14 15
Most of the power in these bills is granted to the office of the Attorney General. The Attorney General can obtain a court order to take action16 17 against a foreign infringing site, or portions thereof, as defined by the following.
- The site is U.S. directed.
- The owner or operator of the site is "committing or facilitating the commission [my emphasis] 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.
- The site would be subject to seizure if it were instead a domestic site.
- The site is used "primarily as a means for engaging in, enabling, or facilitating the activities" of copyright infringement or counterfeit products; or
- The site is designed by its operator "as a means for engaging in, enabling, or facilitating the activities" of copyright infringement or counterfeit products.
If this criteria is met, the office of the Attorney General can then serve this court order to entities in the U.S., requiring them to take specific actions against the site. The following are the actions which must be taken upon receiving the order from the Attorney General's office:
- Require U.S. sites and search engines to remove all links to the foreign site.20 21
- Require U.S. advertising services to no longer serve ads linking to the site, or display ads (e.g. AdSense) on the foreign site.22 23
- Require U.S. payment networks to cease any transactions between the foreign site and U.S. customers.24 25
- Require U.S. service providers to block customer access to the foreign site (DNS blacklisting).2627
"No Duty to Monitor"
The requirements of ad networks22 and payment networks24 include a 'no duty to monitor' paragraph. This paragraph indicates that the networks are in compliance with the requirements if they take the actions described on the date that the order is served. It should be noted that 'search engines' have no such paragraph. This would mean that search engines can be required to continually monitor and prevent new instances of links to foreign sites. Coming from the point-of-view of the drafter of the legislation, this makes perfect sense. Requiring a site to scrub all the links to a foreign site is a useless effort if the links will simply pop up again the next day.
Actions which can be taken by qualified plaintiffs
The Attorney General doesn't get all of the fun. Qualifying plaintiffs can also send notice28 30 to advertising services and payment networks requiring them to cease interaction with a foreign infringing site.29 31
The Devil in the Details
Domestic vs Foreign
The concept of 'domestic' versus 'foreign' on the internet is complex. For example, reddit's primary servers are located in Virginia, however we have domain names through foreign registrars (redd.it, reddit.co.uk). The site is hosted via a third-party content-delivery network (Akamai). This means that if you connect to reddit from a foreign country, you are likely connecting to an Akamai server not located in the U.S. This legislation naively ignores this complexity, and simply labels a site 'foreign' or 'domestic' based solely on the domain name.
The legislators sponsoring these bills have indicated that they are only targeted at truly foreign sites. However, the language is so loose and ignorant of what is truly a foreign site that there is a huge amount of room to argue what is actually "foreign".
Facilitation of criminal violations
The potential for abuse in this language is painfully obvious. "Facilitation" can often be argued as simply teaching or demonstrating how to do something. Under this definition, a site could be targeted for something as simple as describing how to rip a Blu-Ray. This language also makes it clear that the legislation is not solely targeting sites "dedicated to theft".
Why this is going to harm user-driven sites like reddit
Up to this point, reddit and sites like it have been required to remove specific copyrighted content if presented with a properly filled out DMCA takedown request. The notices are required to indicate exactly what pages the content is on, and to prove that they are indeed the owners of the content. Even then, this process is often abused.
SOPA and PROTECT IP contain no provisions to actually remove copyrighted content, but rather focus on the censorship of links to entire domains.
If the Attorney General served reddit with an order to remove links to a domain, we would be required to scrub every post and comment on the site containing the domain and censor the links out, even if the specific link contained no infringing content. We would also need to implement a system to automatically censor the domain from any future posts or comments. This places a measurable burden upon the site's technical infrastructure. It also damages one of the most important tenets of reddit, and the internet as a whole – free and open discussion about whatever the fuck you want.
Why this doesn't actually stop piracy
This legislation is aimed at requiring private U.S. entities to enforce restrictions against foreign sites but does nothing against the infringement itself. All of the enforcement actions can and will be worked around by sites focused on copyright infringement. U.S. citizens will still be able to use foreign DNS servers, new advertising and payment networks will pop up overseas, and "infringing sites" will still be linked to by other foreign sites and search engines. In fact, tools used to circumvent these form of internet restrictions are being funded by the U.S. State department to offer citizens under "repressive regimes" uncensored access to the internet. When the dust settles, piracy will still exist, and the internet in the U.S. will have entered the realm of federal regulation and censorship.
Why this is ripe for abuse
The vague and technology-ignorant language in this pending legislation opens a huge number of doors for different interpretations. When you take this broad language and use it to grant powers to both the Attorney General and plaintiffs like the MPAA and RIAA, you create a system that is begging to be abused. Given the history of abuse of laws like the DMCA, it has become obvious that institutions like the RIAA can and will stretch laws to the breaking point, often while suffering no repercussions.
To prevent a repeat in history of the abuse of internet copyright law, any new legislation must be drafted with the following:
1. Airtight, technically sound definitions.
2. Heavy input from the technology sector. Complex technology legislation should not be drafted by someone who barely has a working knowledge of the internet.
3. Checks and balances ensuring that due-process can be invoked before, during, and after any action is taken.
4. Clear repercussions for entities utilizing the legislation in an abusive manner.
Why this is going to hurt startups and tech innovation
One of the big reasons why a company is able to go from a few computers in a garage to a multi-billion dollar company is due to the open nature of the internet. The barrier to entry on creating a new site or product is very low. Adding legislation that regulates this open platform will seriously hamper future business.
Entrepreneurs will need to invest in legal counsel to ensure they can properly respond to a PROTECT IP or SOPA order. New sites and products will need to invest precious development time to build-in censorship utilities so that they can remove links to foreign sites. New advertising networks will need to calculate the new risk of displaying ads for or on foreign websites. Sites will also be heavily discouraged from using non-US domain names due to the broad language in the bills on how they may be defined.
Adding regulation to one of the few growing sectors in the U.S. will result in a "chilling effect" and will push individuals and business to start ventures elsewhere. Threatening this existing ecosystem for the purpose of making it slightly harder to pirate movies is a very dangerous tradeoff.
It is my strong belief that both PROTECT IP and SOPA:
- Will not stop the piracy they are targeting
- Contain language that is highly ambiguous and extremely broad making them ripe for abuse, and
- Introduce regulation and enforce censorship on what should be a free and open internet.
Monday, January 16, 2012
Yes, I can do this. It’s CC-Licensed.
San Francisco -- January 16, 2012 -- On January 18, 2012, in an unprecedented decision, the Wikipedia community has chosen to blackout the English version of Wikipedia for 24 hours, in protest against proposed legislation in the United States — the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives, and PROTECTIP (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate. If passed, this legislation will harm the free and open Internet and bring about new tools for censorship of international websites inside the United States.
Wikipedia administrators confirmed this decision Monday afternoon (PST) in a public statement (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:SOPA_initiative/Action#Summary_and_conclusion):
Over the course of the past 72 hours, over 1800 Wikipedians have joined together to discuss proposed actions that the community might wish to take against SOPA and PIPA. This is by far the largest level of participation in a community discussion ever seen on Wikipedia, which illustrates the level of concern that Wikipedians feel about this proposed legislation. The overwhelming majority of participants support community action to encourage greater public action in response to these two bills. Of the proposals considered by Wikipedians, those that would result in a "blackout" of the English Wikipedia, in concert with similar blackouts on other websites opposed to SOPA and PIPA, received the strongest support.
“Today Wikipedians from around the world have spoken about their opposition to this destructive legislation," said Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia. "This is an extraordinary action for our community to take - and while we regret having to prevent the world from having access to Wikipedia for even a second, we simply cannot ignore the fact that SOPA and PIPA endanger free speech both in the United States and abroad, and set a frightening precedent of Internet censorship for the world."
We urge Wikipedia readers to make your voices heard. If you live in the United States, find your elected representative in Washington (https://www.eff.org/sopacall). If you live outside the United States, contact your State Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs or similar branch of government. Tell them you oppose SOPA and PIPA, and want the internet to remain open and free.
Sunday, January 15, 2012
We are in grave danger from SOPA, our freedom, our very way of life, is at risk.
http://www.geeksaresexy.net/2012/01/04/geek-vs-nerd-the-infographic/ (thanks Emmanuel!)
http://geodsoft.com/opinion/oslimits/schools.htm Why Schools should use Open Source now
Thursday, January 12, 2012
When it was brought to the attention of the Reddit community in mid-November, SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, drew immense criticism from all sectors of the internet, which might be the understatement of the year. A mass online movement to protest the bill was born, and legions of people contacted their Senators and Representatives to urge them to vote down the bill. SOPA will be discussed before Congress when it returns from its Winter Recess come the end of January.
In essence, the bill attempts to address the problem of media piracy by giving corporations more power to seek legal action against web sites they accuse of copyright infringement. Such legal actions might include blacklisting sites that link to shared copyrighted content, starving sites off the necessary advertising money they need to survive, imprisoning content-sharers for up to five years, barring search engines from displaying certain links and erecting a DNS firewall around the United States preventing access to copyrighted content in servers located in other countries.
Reflecting the “smart-mob” nature of the web, internet users revolted against the multitude of corporations that supported the bill. Domain name company GoDaddy, which voiced its support of the bill in December, faced a mass exodus of users as people boycotted the service. The company lost 37,000 users as a result of the boycott and saw its web ranking plunge when megasites Reddit and Wikipedia migrated off their namespaces.
On December 13th, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales proposed a Wikipedia “blackout” in protest of the bill, temporarily taking the site offline to send a penetrating message to legislators and the internet community. He addressed editors, “Do not underestimate our power - in my opinion, they are terrified of a public uprising about this, and we are uniquely positioned to start that”. As of January, Google, Facebook, Reddit and Twitter have put consideration into joining Wikipedia in its symbolic strike. Reddit confirmed a blackout on January 18th and other sites have started discussion in coordinating blackouts.
SOPA puts the United States in peril as President Obama will likely alienate the media industry if he signs the bill into law, and conversely, alienate tech and internet startups. The mainstream media has skirted the issue notably while the tech industry has loudly and radically protested the measure. Time will tell whether this controversial measure will be the boon to innovation its creators espouse it to be.
Saturday, January 7, 2012
Monday, January 2, 2012
I am a high school senior, which means that over the past year, I’ve received hundreds of pounds of mail from colleges requesting the honor of my application. For the most part, this business has kept the recycling collector notably busy and my heart heavy in the thought of the myriad trees that wasted their lives. I got a letter today from a place called “Neumont University” (where’s Neumont?), a for-profit technological school, and was immediately disturbed by what I saw. I’ll quote the letter in verbatim and I kid not when I say disturbed. Don your gloves, since its time to do some professional adbusting.
Adbusting The Letter
When you think about what most colleges are like, you probably imagine:
- Boring lectures in giant lecture halls on giant campuses.
- Old, irrelevant knowledge (courses like 18th-century French poetry).
- Theory, theory, theory – with an internship tucked in at the end.
- Four years… maybe five.
- A “well founded, liberal arts education” (aka, you’re still waiting tables a year after graduation).
How lovely, bashing 2169 reputable institutions generating creative and innovative research scattered throughout the United States. Dismissing cultural history as irrelevant and the fundamental aspects of knowledge as useless. It purposefully eschews “knowledge for knowledge’s sake” and the wording implies that the only tangible goal of education is money. The school doesn’t stop there, this is where it gets really egregious.
Neumont University isn’t like most colleges. It’s designed for students like you who have a passion for technology, want a challenge, and hate wasting time. Here’s how a Neumont education is different.
- Hands on learning, not dumbed-down learning: You’ll work on real projects (with real deadlines) for companies like Nike, IBM and eBay.
- Always relevant: study the latest languages, apps, and platforms taught by faculty who’ve actually done what they’re teaching.
- Just 2.5 years: Think of it as a 4-year degree in a 2.5 year .ZIP file.
- Remarkable results: over 95% of our graduates are employed within six months of graduation. And they accept positions with starting salaries averaging $63000 a year.
“Hands on learning, not dumbed-down learning” espouses the advertisement. The school evidently outsources its students to megacorporations, disguising commercial work as education and placing the students into work with its “industry partners”. While I do admire the idea of co-op work (Drexel ftw), Neumont pushes the idea to its logical extreme and attempts to sell itself on it. No mention is made at all about students being instilled with the creativity and drive to form their own companies and realize their original ideas. The school’s website is written in a hip and cool manner devoid of much meaningful content.
Take the traditional, dated, stodgy concept of college and Ctrl+Shift+Esc. Neumont University was built from the ground-up, with the help of industry leaders, to create the ideal learning environment for tech-obsessed students.
I mean, wow, seriously? I’d much rather CTRL+ALT+DEL after seeing the kind of market Neumont is attempting to sell itself to: rebellious, pissed-off types hellbent on resisting any type of authority, in short, dweebier Holden Caulfields. The fact that the school simplifies the theoretical, historical, intellectual, philosophical and artistic aspects of computer science and game design to “the latest languages, apps, and platforms” relegates the school to a niche market of money-obsessed teens. I have no doubt that the teachers at Neumont are indeed fine and honorable and aren’t in it for the money, but the wording of the letter makes it seem directly converse.
Further embodying the Holden Caulfield comparison, the college writes on its website: “Toga parties are for the saps who will be stuck in their senior year while you're already working toward that first promotion, raking in the cash.”. What Neumont has done here is dismiss the social and moral importance of education. The most moving thing about the experience of learning is what people discover within themselves throughout those four years. This extends even to high-school, the timid and friendless freshman that I once was evolved into a stronger, more loving and more hopeful iteration. This change will definitely continue through the relationships I build and the experiences I share with my treasured peers. To condense the full college experience into a “2.5 year .ZIP file” would simplify the beauty of growing up into an antisocial cash-grab.
Furthermore, the school was founded in 2003 and has graduated a little over 380 students (according to Wikipedia), which kinda puts its claim of over “95 percent of graduates are employed within six months of graduation” on shaky ground. The price of tuition is a pretty impressive $21,800, but student loans are a continuous problem for for-profit schools and protecting oneself from crippling student-debt will undoubtedly be a problem for those who choose to take out loans.
I mean, seriously?!
Schools are supposed to be intellectual havens and should be free of such ridiculous marketing. The course description page for their game design degree features a picture of a guy playing Minecraft, which reads: "A passion for gaming isn’t enough to succeed in this exciting field. Even getting a long-range headshot off while falling through the air won’t cut it (although we admire your talent).” For aspiring game developers seeking to bring hope to the dying medium, isn’t it clear that we’re looking for something more? What Neumont needs to do is dump the flashy marketing and attempt to convince us with the intellectual energy of its students and faculty. Think beyond the money for a moment: isn’t it clear that there are more important things to the fields of computer science and game design? Fixate your applicant’s interests on money rather than brains and you’re practically welcoming the zombie apocalypse to begin on your campus.
The Bigger Picture
Let’s look beyond Neumont University’s attempt at marketing and consider for-profit schools as a whole. I’m all for the conservative spending that these schools adhere to, with fewer attendees, funds are more limited and more money goes towards good teaching rather than frivolities like restaurants and shops on campus. That said, compromising the integrity of education to reach for those precious funds goes against the purpose of the school. While its a safe bet to say that Neumont is one of the better for-profit schools out there, academia and intellectualism are lost from the school’s vital community as students begin to take interest in maximizing their personal profits in the future.
That said, the Huffington Post did an interesting series of posts on practices at these schools. A finding by the Obama Administration stated that 45% of defaulted student-loans came from students who attended such institutions. Promises of full-tuition loans ultimately put their recipients in crippling debt. The fact that these institutions typically cost much more than public community colleges and universities would make them unappealing to the vast majority of students.
Ultimately, I shy away from for-profit schools with many qualms. While it is good that these schools are providing opportunities for fields such as mechanics and culinary arts that might not be available at other schools, seeking out profit from educating students is cause to question the intellectual vigor and integrity of such institutions.