One of the biggest concerns regarding the passage of SOPA is that entire domain names could be blocked by federal authorities due to a single offending blog or web page. In this past week, major websites such as Wikipedia and Google engaged in an education campaign in order to have consumers put pressure on politicians who eventually reversed course on their support of the bill.
On a side note – as a conservative – the fact that a Republican, Representative Lamar Smith was the biggest proponent of this bill is horrifying. He should be thrown out of office by his constituents at the first possible chance.
Moreover, any politician who ever supported the bill should suffer the same fate.
But what is even scarier than theoretical web takedowns is actual ones and this week we saw Megaupload removed from the web because it allegedly engaged in activities which promoted pirating copyrighted material. Now if you aren’t a user of the site – and I never have been to my knowledge, you may be led to believe the US government was in its rights to take down a site designed solely to break the law.
But the challenge here is there are many users who used Megaupload for legitimate uses like sharing and storing files. These people are effectively cut off from their assets – and were given no notice this would happen.
Here are tweets from some angry users:
@taenina: #Megaupload was closed by the FBI… Was I the only one who had it for work files? Just get me my files back!!!
@Pattysplayhouse: They shut down #Megaupload. I had backup files of all my personal images up there on that site
@Roatandude: So I had a whole bunch of personal stuff stored in #Megaupload and now its gone. WTF!!! #StopSOPA
@Nicole8angel: Megaupload is one thing that helps me send big files to my group mates when we’re making projects… Bring it back...
Think about this – Megaupload was being used as cloud storage and was shut down because the site engaged in practices the US government deemed to be illegal. Isn’t this the exact same argument outlined above as it relates to SOPA? Yes.
So what we have determined is the government doesn’t need SOPA to shut down websites it deems to be acting in a way which does not respect copyright holders.
But this is where it gets interesting. The insatiable move to the cloud has led to consumers and businesses storing more and more of their files on services from a variety of companies. Amazon’s S3 for example stores terabytes of information and it is a safe bet some of the data in its cloud is not legal – meaning pirated. So should Amazon S3 be shut down? And how about Amazon.com? After all it’s the same company. Likewise for other companies who allow illegal data to be shared. Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, Dropbox, YouSendIt, you name it.
Obviously the issue is the degree of infringing data and moreover, what is the purpose of the service? For example, Napster was set up for no other reason but to share illegal music. Pretty clear cut and dry. But Megaupload has many legitimate users as well – so how does a determination get made in terms of the guilt, innocence and due process of such sites and services?
Well a good solution would be courts – but an argument can be made by the MPA that they take too long.
So we are left with what is really a grey area – it is unclear which sites will be future targets in-part because targets are determined by what users determine they want to share. So if millions of users tomorrow decide they want to use a specific cloud vendor for the purpose of setting up a new age Napster to share music and movies, the site could be targeted and taken down – along with the legitimate files stored on the service.
Explained another way, we are in legal cloud limbo. And it is worth stating firmly that the federal government is casting a shadow over cloud-computing – one of the hottest sectors of tech, receiving perhaps the most funding and doing the most hiring. I cannot think of anything more self-destructive for a society looking for economic growth to be doing.