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How does SOPA threaten Stack Overflow? (stackoverflow.com)
380 points by sathyabhat on Nov 29, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 74 comments

I was once the registered DMCA agent for a large organization. All of the registered agents are listed on the US Copyright's Office website so that rights holders can look-up the names and addresses to send notices when an IP address within that organization is found to have content that is thought to be infringing (P2P, music, movies, etc).

Fewer than 1 in 10 came to me (the person registered to receive the notices). Subcontractors working on behalf of rights holders would send notices to any email address that they could find. Some went to retired employees, transferred employees, etc. It got so bad that we put a comment in ARIN that specified the agent's contact address to try and stop it. Didn't work.

The DMCA requires a proper notice be sent to the registered agent and grants the organization safe-harbor. It is very well defined. Here is the official list of registered agents (the one and only list... but DMCA subcontractors don't read it):


Most of them are bots, and I doubt your note in ARIN was even being read. They seem to love to look up the abuse contact for an email address, and send their notices there. A large number of them make no attempt to find the registered agent. Sadly, this works for them, since I would imagine most ISP's just forward on the notice to the registered contact.

I wonder what would happen if you ignored a DMCA notice sent to the wrong contact. Would it be invalid?

The entire purpose of the portion of the law (DMCA) requiring valid notices be sent to registered agents is so that notice is given to the correct person at the organization so that swift action may be taken to investigate and potentially remedy the alleged copyright violation. How else do you think the organization would know to respond?

Rights holders and their subcontractors can't just email anyone in your domain (the janitor's office) and expect action to be taken. The law (DMCA) is very explicit about this. Notice must be given to the registered agent (PERIOD). However, you should ask your legal counsel what they which to do with invalid notices. Some will want the organization to respond anyway, others won't. It depends on whether or not they wish to waste money spending time following-up on invalid notices. I can tell you this though, a notice sent to janitor@domain.com is not going to stand up in court unless janitor@domain.com is indeed the registered agent.

The point is that if they can't be bothered to obey the DMCA and take the time to look-up the proper published registered agent, why should new laws be considered that let them get away with even worse laziness and accusations?

I participated in the recent EFF push for contacting elected representatives regarding SOPA. I customized their pre-packaged letter greatly, adding both my experience and qualifications and expounding on the distrust from the tech industry to SOPA.

The response from my (Republican) Congressman was a form letter telling me I was wrong, and regurgitating a the pro-SOPA talking points.

I've been contemplating a rather severe letter in response, but I haven't gotten to it as I don't believe anything I can say to him will be effective.

I was listening to an interview of Jack Abramoff plugging his new book. Don't know if the book is any good, but one comment that struck me was that, bluntly, campaign donations, all the various perks given to politicians and their staff were bribes. My opinion matches. They're indirect bribes, (mostly) following legal boundaries, but basically bribes for attention if not for outright votes.

What gets a politicians attention is money, and less directly votes - but money can move votes... and people have a poor long-term memory at the voting booth.

I wonder what a open "real-time democracy" Political Action Committee website might look like. Suppose there were tracked tallies of voting intentions, donations, donator "votes" to apply money to issues to be spent on specific campaigns at election time. I imagine you'd want to distribute election targeting data to the PAC voters so they can individually make their resource decisions, maybe to shift their donation to politicians who were most vulnerable in a given district. Sending a politician updates of that summarized data with time series growth might get their attention better than letters. It sucks that we need to bribe your own representatives though...

"I've been contemplating a rather severe letter in response, but I haven't gotten to it as I don't believe anything I can say to him will be effective."

I doubt whether anything you say to _him_ would be effective. But why not write a response and then post the three letters (your first, his reply, your response) to a blog or website? If you publicly reveal the weakness of his position it could have some effect.

I'm a bit disappointed the EFF submit form didn't forward me a copy of the letter I sent through their site.

I didn't make a copy, and instantly after sending, wished I had.

Mr Congressman, you have lost my vote forever. Furthermore, I will be campaigning on behalf of $OPPONENT who still believes in freedom and our greatest liberties. The fact that we have great men like $OPPONENT proves American democracy still works.

"Lost my vote forever" is, I'm sure, the kind of meaningless spiel they hear everyday. It would likely have the same effect on a congressman that saying "meat is murder" has on me - instant tune-out.

A response informing the congressman of why he's wrong, citing loss of jobs and liberty while threatening innovation, all in the name of an ever-growing government keen to erode our rights in the service of special interests, would likely hit enough republican talking points to at least merit a moment's consideration. Which, at the end of the day, is probably the best you could hope for.

That's assuming that this comgressman believes his talking points. I'm of the opinion that many talking points are for _other_ people to believe, but the ones saying them do not believe in them. The subject matter just doesn't affect them. Why would a politician who has been bought by Big Media care about innovation, loss of jobs/liberty, or erosion of rights?

Hit them where it hurts. Threaten _their_ job. If you lose your job due to their legislation, they'll just blame their opponent and tell you to stop begging for handouts.

Threatening their job is one thing -- it's when you say that they've lost your vote _forever_ that it becomes too far, as they might feel that they have no choice for recompense to gain your vote back.

In short, it's going too far, and even if it isn't, certainly seems like an idle threat.

Saying something more like "I cannot vote for any candidate who supports this policy or any like it" is perhaps a more effective statement to make.

A fair point. I like your wording.

"Every one admits how praiseworthy it is in a prince to keep faith, and to live with integrity and not with craft. Nevertheless our experience has been that those princes who have done great things have held good faith of little account, and have known how to circumvent the intellect of men by craft, and in the end have overcome those who have relied on their word.... he who has known best how to [be foxy] has succeeded best.

"But it is necessary to know well how to disguise this characteristic, and to be a great pretender and dissembler; and men are so simple, and so subject to present necessities, that he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived. One recent example I cannot pass over in silence. Alexander VI did nothing else but deceive men, nor ever thought of doing otherwise, and he always found victims; for there never was a man who had greater power in asserting, or who with greater oaths would affirm a thing, yet would observe it less; nevertheless his deceits always succeeded according to his wishes, because he well understood this side of mankind.

"Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them."

http://www.constitution.org/mac/prince18.htm (As they say, read the whole thing... the chapter, anyhow.)

Unfortunately it is incredibly rare to find a match for your hypothetical $OPPONENT that is both electable enough that your letter won't be laughed off and who actually fits the description of being a great man (or woman).

This is often the problem with politics, you may strongly disagree with government policy on an issue that is important to you but all of the other parties that stand any chance at all of being elected to office also support the governments stance on that issue.

So your choice is either to concede that issue or vote for a fringe party (which here in the UK basically makes your vote worthless).

Freedom was not nor ever will be won with words. Freedom is won from the barrell of a gun. words only have power when they are from someone ready to use action if they have no effect.

And sometimes freedom is won by marching for salt. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salt_March

No, not really. The establishment embraced Ghandi to take the wind out of the more radical violent movements.

The same way the NAACP was embraced over the Black Panther Party.

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revolutionary_movement_for_Ind...

My Congressman sent me a form letter thanking me for sharing my feedback about an entirely different issue. I did include the bill numbers and titles, so you'd think an automated system would pick it up, but I guess they're going purely by keywords--and "piracy" becomes "privacy" somehow.

No response at all from my Senators. I assume in three months, I'll get a condescending letter from at least one of them explaining why I'm wrong, just like with TARP and any other issue I bother to contact these folks about.

the response from your congressman's office was a form letter. the problem with letter writing campaigns is that after the first few most letters get stopped by the aides before they ever reach anybody of importance. congressmen have office hours. stop by and see if you can talk to him about it.

That's true, but there is a 'hack' to get around that. Generally new questions arriving at the office will not have prepared responses. New text can not usually be written by the staffers without being reviewed.

So, the trick is to raise 2 (unrelated or related) issues in your letter. Issue one is the real issue you are concerned about, and the other needs to be something low profile that will not already have a canned response.

That way a reply will need to be drafted by staffers and reviewed by someone (hopefully the actual politician).

I've tried that also, without really having any success. Perhaps it relates to their profile and volume of correspondence? Most of my (mostly negative) correspondence over the years has gone to my now-former Congressman (and former House Majority Leader) Tom DeLay, who I can imagine was pretty busy.

Post all three pieces somewhere (your letter, his non-response, and your severe response), then call it to the attention of everyone who has the slightest interest in his embarrassment, including news outlets whose only interest is selling ads via controversy.

While your Congressman has probably already made up his mind on this issue, you're not going to help him change it if your communication comes from a 'liberal' organization like the EFF.

Why don't you try writing him while incorporating some more conservative commentary? Here's a couple of links from the National Review, one of my morning reads:



I'm sure you can find more with a little Google-fu.

One of the more interesting things about SOPA is that both its supporters and opponents are pretty bipartisan. You can't oppose (or support) it by indiscriminately supporting one party or the other.

How is the EFF a liberal organization? Their primary agenda seems to be pro individual privacy, pro encryption, and anti-copyright.

Until 2001, some of those (encryption and privacy) were conservative issues. Now both parties tend to be in agreement and oppose the EFF on all of these issues.

I think GP is suggesting EFF has more in common with the ACLU than with the Tea Party.

I think of the EFF as more Libertarian, and a often bit extreme in its position, which I think often puts it at the fringes of either of the major parties.

As is mentioned elsewhere, both parties have trouble understanding/responding to tech/privacy/open source/IP issues, so it's good there's a voice. I glad the EFF finds opportunities to disagree with both parties.

That's why I put 'liberal' in quotes.

There is a useful response: give $50 to your congressman's opponent, attach a receipt, and vote democrat in the next election. Remember, the only people in the us who matter are voters (especially primary voters), donors, and campaign volunteers.

> vote democrat in the next election

Why would voting for someone who voted for SOPA help stop it?

Harry Reid, D-NV, senate majority leader, is pushing SOPA as a jobs bill so claiming that it's a republican idea is silly.

http://maplight.org/us-congress/bill/112-hr-3261/1019110/tot... shows that police and firefighter unions are supporting SOPA, as are the teamsters, the electrical workers union, as well as the movie-related groups that you'd expect.

I think he more meant "vote for that congressman's strongest opponent." The party doesn't particularly matter so much as showing that his handling of this specific situation caused someone to support his biggest rival.

It's well known that Harry Reid is bought-and-paid-for by MPAA/RIAA, just like Dianne Feinstein in California (who most of my liberal friends loved, but who I couldn't stand for her MAFIAA connections).

Politics is no fun. It's not like if I voted for the Republican opposing her that we'd get a better deal for ANYTHING that I cared about. We need a third party with reasonable political power, and/or a proportional-governance system where you tally the votes and give each party its proportional share of representatives. The current system is broken.

Personally, I find myself disagreeing with both sides too much for this to be effective at all.

I'm not going to say one should or shouldn't vote Democrat. But, there are too many considerations on which I'm unwilling to compromise to just vote for the enemy of my enemy. Neither party is your friend.

Politicians will always do whatever is in the interests of the people or companies giving them votes or donations, so unfortunately without voting for the enemy of your enemy (and maybe convincing others to do so), you don't have any other tool to punish these politicians.

And they need to be punished, just like a good spanking at the right time does wonders for spoiled brats.

"unfortunately without voting for the enemy of your enemy (and maybe convincing others to do so), you don't have any other tool to punish these politicians."

This sounds awfully like "I Voted for Kodos".

From experience (see the NRA in particular), a largish single issue voting block that is willing to support either party can be enormously effective at advancing their issue.

Did anyone ever think we'd see the day where we were using DMCA as an example of the preferrable alternative?

The DMCA was a whole bundle of legislation, and some of its effects were highly desirable -- in particular the safe harbor provisions. Without those[1] sites like youtube could never have existed.

You can read about the various portions of it on wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_Millennium_Copyright_Ac...

Title I includes the anti-circumvention measures, which is what everyone loves to hate, but the act as a whole deals with a lot of other stuff. (Title V deals with copyright and boat hull designs, for instance!)

[1]Or something stronger, tis not like it was perfect!

Although some aspects of DMCA aren't bad, I believe this is also the Overton Window[1] in action. I wonder if all this outrage of SOPA might actually allow the Senate's Protect IP Act (PIPA) to pass "as a compromise".


Yes, it's strange isn't it? But since the big media copyright lads want to go further than the DMCA, that would imply it was OK. And the USA has the DMCA now, how has the last 10 years been for internet freedom? Not too bad, so it probably wasn't that bad.

How much freer would the Internet have been if the DMCA had not been passed? Think of all the hours YouTube alone spends in policing itself and handling copyright takedown notices and imagine those hours spent improving YouTube or coming up with new video sharing services.

The current copyright regime is tolerable. Tolerable and good are worlds apart.

YouTube would not exist today without the safe-harbor provisions of the DMCA. It would have been sued out of existence years ago.

The DMCA did not create copyright law, it modified it, and pre-DMCA, YouTube would have had no protections.

And without a fair use exception to copyright, search engines like Google could not show matching web site excerpts in their results.

Imagine search engine results that consisted only of URL's.

Yes, but I'm a pessimist. Do I win anything? :(

Big media has scary pull in D.C.

Thanksgiving was the cutesy (but needed) Upgrade Your Parents' Browser Day.

$winter_holiday_of_choice should include a Explain SOPA To Your Parents Lunch or something - we need to get as many level-headed against SOPA as possible.

Funny how people use "$winter_holiday_of_choice" to avoid religious bias, but end up ignoring the literal half of the planet where the holiday happens during summer. Not complaining, just pointing out the futility of the exercise.

It would have made sense if SOPA was an American problem, but as it stands it threatens the internet for the whole world because of hosting locations and origin of technology companies.

> "Not complaining, just pointing out the futility of the exercise."

So you're saying we should go with $solstice_holiday_of_choice ?

Just because they didn't abstract sufficiently doesn't mean that abstraction is necessarily futile.

$december_reason_to_see_the_parents then. :P

Ahh, but then you're still excluding any culture not using the Gregorian calendar... ;)

Especially since that demographic will probably be the ones that would support candidates that support this bill. Showing what is lost, especially in the freedom area would be a big boost....assuming they want to learn that is.

The fact that its even possible for this law to be considered should give people another hint at how dangerous and negligent our "representatives" are. Other obvious hints are apparent also, such as the Patriot Act and about 100 other things I won't mention.

People just need to face reality. Its a corrupt system. The government is full of fraudsters and even mass murderers. I know its hard to accept that, but that's the truth.

The other problem is that its the very structure of our government and society that creates these outcomes over and over again.

We need to do some agile engineering on society, starting from base premises.

The tools are there as is the platform (the Internet), its just a matter of smart people applying themselves IMO, Wikileaks was a good start, I suppose, but too radical and easy to shutdown, there are opportunities to more sustainably build on what they started. Maybe if people could turn their attention away from trying to use their engineering abilities to create crap like what Zynga does (facebook games, etc) and actually try to create some things that are worthwhile and can help society then we would be better off. Of course this doesn't happen as its not necessarily a path to becoming a millionaire and thats what most people seem to think it is important.

What would you change about the representative form of government?

Any government consisting of representatives of the people will end up proposing and debating laws that certain segments of the population sees as "bad" at times.

It's a test of how well the government works if the people can voice their opinion and have an effect on Congress's debate. If this happens and curtails the law, then government is working.

What would you change about the representative form of government?

At this point, I'd probably ditch it as unworkable, and replace it with a more meritocratic, less corruptible form.

It's a test of how well the government works if the people can voice their opinion and have an effect on Congress's debate. If this happens and curtails the law, then government is working.

No, it isn't. SOPA is an obvious exercise in moving the Overton Window. The bill(s) that follow it -- including those that will eventually pass -- will seem innocuous by comparison, regardless of their content.

This is great but surely we need to be targeting a wider audience? SO is made up of tech enthusiasts, I imagine a large percentage of them have heard of SOPA and understand the issues. However they probably represent a tiny fraction of the population.

Really we need the eBay's, AOL's and Craiglist's of this world to be running campaigns like this, getting the message out to the more casual internet user.

you're absolutely right, stackoverflow is preaching to the choir. but at least they're saying something, kudos to them. all opposition is good.

somebody else here had this idea, and i love it: facebook needs to shut down their site for an hour and replace it with the message "this is what happens if SOPA passes".

Craigslist might actually do it... I doubt AOL or eBay ever would.

I tweeted to Craig Newmark and he answered positively - here's hoping: http://twitter.com/#!/craignewmark/status/141604875581657088

Odd they didn't do this on the day that every other site did. Or has it been up since then?

we're a little bit slow!

The whole SOPA and PROTECT IP thing is a power play to leverage the Internet community into a compromise which would allow the acceptance of a removal of anonymous internet usage.

Very good, I already had a lot of respect for SO now I have a lot more!

The global internet is quickly becoming a more powerful entity than all the rulers in Congress. Congress will not stop trying to put a leash on it. The more powerful the internet gets, the more you will see Congress trying anything to establish control. Child pornography, digital rights, copyright, Chinese hackers, national security, containing the terrorists, fud... Congress will use military force if necessary if the global internet challenges its supreme authority as global sovreign. Which one day it will.

These kinds of comments may scare away large numbers of level-headed people from standing up against SOPA. Do you honestly think that the emergence of a global super-entity to serve as a niche to all kinds of low-lives is a good thing? Because if you are, then a lot of people who are aware of your position will be against whatever you stand, which of course means that you will lose potentially valuable allies against SOPA.

Let's stand against SOPA, but let's not get too radical while doing it. The Internet is not a savior of "the people" or a second coming of anything. No one will save us but ourselves.

Do you honestly think that the emergence of a global super-entity to serve as a niche to all kinds of low-lives is a good thing?

Tell us how you really feel. Don't worry though, I'm confident that the government will eventually find a way to expunge all the undesirable "low-lives" from the net.

Spreading paranoia about the government is a classic tactic of disaffected "little" people, whether they are of the right or of the left.

There are plenty of things that are wrong with the government, but being paranoid and bitter is not the way to fix them.

"No one will save us but ourselves." This seems more in support of maeon3's comment than a point against.

Even the Free and Open Source Movements need a Richard Stallman to be as successful as they have been.

No they don't. You are jumping to conclusion from a sample of size one, ignoring survivorship bias.

The internet is merely an extension of our global community, with a particular focus on areas with high broadband penetration and large amounts of free time. It's not some sort of super entity.

We are still subject to the same petty and idiotic politicians as always, and will be for the foreseeable future. That's how the world works. The internet celebrates the cult of personality just as much if not more than real life.

I'm used to seeing a close button on these types of messages on Stack Overflow. Kind of a nuisance to have it stuck there even after I've signed the petition. Maybe if it were a different color, or I hadn't been trained to read all of the yellow status messages on each SO page, it would be less annoying..

The system messages don't have a close button, they're usually used for important site status updates such as "There will be a short network wide outage starting on date at time for system maintenance".

The use of the tool for memorials to Steve Jobs or for political messages like this is extremely rare.

It's a good thing that you read the status messages. Normally, they're important.

All of the top notification banners are the most annoying part of SO, IMO. Every time I go there I end up clicking close 3-4 times.

The problem is that if they keep using them for politics or for other things that aren't system messages, people will start ignoring them. "Ugh, that's that bar that just shows dumb political messages."

Yes, system messages shouldn't be abused like this. They are supposed to be the exception not norm. Even though the message gets to the front of your attention on every single page, it would have been better if this was to be placed as a community ad or a blog post.

Seeing that this is directed to the US users of Stack Overflow, I am not sure what the rest of the world should be doing other than spreading the message.

To play devil's advocate, since SO has dumps of their data under CC, anyone from another country can still get the content.

The community and the system of asking and answering questions are threatened, the previous data will still be around.

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