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 The SOPAbox: Defeating online piracy by destroying the internet

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PostSubject: The SOPAbox: Defeating online piracy by destroying the internet   Wed Jan 11, 2012 8:20 am



Disclaimer: The Soapbox
column is entirely the opinion of this week's writer and does not
necessarily reflect the views of Massively as a whole. If you're afraid
of opinions other than your own, you might want to skip this column.


Unless you've been living under a rock, chances are you've heard of SOPA and PIPA.
The Stop Online Piracy Act and PROTECT IP Act are two radical pieces of
copyright legislation currently being pushed through the US government.
Although the stated intent of the new legislation is to provide
companies with additional tools with which to combat piracy, the bill's loose wording has raised some serious alarm bells.
Opponents to the proposed law say it would give corporations the
ability to shut down any almost any website under the guise of
protecting copyright infringement.

Gamers will be affected worst of all, as the loose wording of the law
makes any website with user-submitted content potentially vulnerable to a
shut down order. That could include YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, any
blog with a comment section, or even any online game with a chat system.
Perhaps the scariest part is that you'll be affected even if you're not
in the US, as one of the new law's enforcement mechanisms is to remove a
site from the DNS records, a move that assumes the US has jurisdiction
over the global Domain Name System. AOL is among many huge companies strongly opposing SOPA, and so naturally Massively opposes it too.

In this week's massive two-page Soapbox,
I make the case for why you should be worried about SOPA, and I suggest
what can be done to tackle piracy in the games industry. Comments can
be left on page two.

Current enforcement mechanisms

Companies in the film, music and games industries obviously have a need
to protect their copyrights and prevent misuse of their intellectual
properties. The internet has provided massive opportunities for piracy,
making it incredibly simple and cost-effective to illegally obtain
copies of games, films, and music. The use of digital formats means that
the old argument of pirate copies being lower quality no longer applies
as pirates are getting the full digital product for free.

The current system in place to stop this kind of copyright infringement is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act,
a piece of legislation designed to provide a fast-track method for
companies to get their copyrighted material removed from an offending
website without putting that website at risk.

Because of the DMCA's "safe harbour" rule, a website with user-submitted
content like YouTube is not held liable for the content its users post.
If you upload a song to YouTube, you might be breaking the law, but
YouTube isn't. When copyright owners find infringement like this, they
send the website owner a DMCA request, and the offending content is
selectively removed. The argument being put forward by corporations
supporting SOPA is that the DMCA doesn't work against websites that just
ignore the requests. Websites hosted in the US that ignore DMCA
requests can eventually be taken down, as the webhost company would be
aiding criminal activities if it refused, but foreign sites can't.

The spirit of the law

The US legal system has no jurisdiction over websites hosted outside the
US, so pirates usually just move their servers to another country and
ignore takedown requests. These "rogue websites" may be doing business
with people in the US, and the spirit of SOPA is to provide a mechanism
for blocking access to those websites for all US citizens.
Unfortunately, it's such a badly worded piece of legislation that it can be used to block access to almost any legitimate website.

A website can be classified as rogue if it is primarily engaged in
offering services that can enable or facilitate copyright violation, but
any website with user-submitted content fits that description. The
primary purpose of gaming forums and blogs, for example, is to offer
people a means to have text discussions. As text can be used to share
links to copyrighted material and therefore facilitate copyright
violation, those sites (including Facebook and Twitter) could easily be
deemed rogue if any user posts a link to copyrighted material. History
is replete with examples of people using the word of the law to defeat
the spirit of the law, and there's no reason to assume SOPA would be
treated any differently.





Shifting the blame

People have also complained about some of SOPA's bizarre provisions that expose website owners to uncertain liabilities;
Section 103(a)(I)(B)(ii)(I) in particular renders a website owner
liable if he takes "deliberate action to avoid confirming a high
probability" that a user is infringing copyright. The unclear wording of
this provision means website owners and ISPs that don't invasively
monitor all user-submitted content (including private messages) could be
held liable for the actions of their users. This would effectively
override the DMCA's safe harbour rule for websites operating in good
faith whose services are nevertheless used to facilitate piracy.
YouTube, for example, could be made liable for copyrighted music
appearing on the website even though it's financially and
technologically infeasible to check every video for violations.

Head over to page two,
where I look at SOPA's DNS takedown provisions and what they mean for
MMOs, challenge the effectiveness of SOPA to actually stop piracy and
lay down some simple rules for battling piracy in the games industry.

SOPA's own version of the safe harbor rule grants immunity from DNS
takedowns to ISPs and websites that voluntarily block content they
believe to be in violation of SOPA. This is so incredibly abusable that
I'm shocked it's even being considered; it would allow any ISP to
preferentially block content from a competitor as long as it could say
it had reason to believe there was copyright violation involved. Imagine
your ISP blocking a competing ISP's website because of "an anonymous
tip" about copyright violation, or webhost Comcast blocking video
streaming services that compete with its own NBC. Worse yet, imagine an MMO publisher that also owns an ISP
throttling or blocking competing games, in clear violation of the
principles of net neutrality. This is clearly a law created by people
who fundamentally do not understand how the internet works.

DNS takedowns

SOPA has three major enforcement mechanisms:
DNS takedowns, court orders to banks and advertisers, and search engine
delisting. The possibility of a corporation getting a court order to
cut off a foreign website's access to funds from the US could have dire
consequences for startup game studios around the world. Startups won't
have the financial backing to stay afloat while a challenge goes through
a US court; they may not have the funds to even fight such a case.
Delisting an upcoming online game from search engines could also destroy
its launch, and Google may also be obligated to delist every gaming
news website that linked to the offending website.

What I'm talking about is the most disgraceful form of censorship, with
which any corporation with a strong enough legal team can try to erase a
competitor from the web entirely at strategic times just by citing
belief of copyright violation. The most contentious issue with SOPA has
of course been the provision for DNS takedowns. If the law goes into
effect, it will allow a corporation that believes its copyright is being
infringed upon to get an entire website delisted from the domain name
service so that it's inaccessible. This could be disastrous for online
gaming, as shutting down an MMO's website via a DNS takedown request
would also kill access to any game servers that resolve under subdomains
of that domain.






The provisions of SOPA technically don't apply to US websites,
only to foreign websites that are accessible in the US. Unfortunately,
this too is a legal gray area as most popular websites are not hosted in
one particular location. Google has servers around the world, and all
of its services are accessible globally. What should really get you
worried is that many MMOs and other online games have servers
distributed throughout the world to reduce lag by directing players to a
local server. Imagine waking up one morning to find the entire RIFT
website and its game servers blocked in the US because people on an EU
server were sharing links to copyrighted material in chat. It may sound
far fetched, but it's all within the scope of SOPA.

At least it stops piracy, right?

If this weren't such a serious issue, I would be laughing at how
ineffective the provisions in SOPA will actually be at combating piracy.
Takedowns can be easily countered by anyone with half an ounce of wit,
rendering it almost farcical that the anyone in the entertainment
industries is supporting the bill. When a website hosting pirate
material is taken down by its webhosts or domain host, which already
happens regularly despite there usually being no legal basis for it, the
website can be back online within minutes. If the domain is seized, which has also happened without a legal basis, a new one can be created and within a few hours the new name can proliferate through social media.

Taking a domain name out of the DNS register does nothing to stop people
accessing the website, as it can still be accessed via its IP address,
and there's no legal way to stop people sharing that. I could write a
small piece of software in five minutes that would run in the background
and resolve the IP of any website
whose DNS record had been taken down through SOPA, thereby bypassing
the entire system. People have already started working on browser
extensions and alternate public DNS servers to nullify the effects of
SOPA; the bill isn't even law yet and it's already obsolete.



SOPA is a goldmine of legal loopholes that grant any corporation with a
good legal department shocking censorship powers over the web, and it's a
chilling thought that it could actually go live. Just this month, Belarus made it illegal for foreign websites
to offer goods and services to the country's citizens, and further made
it illegal to access pornographic or extremist websites. Spain followed
suit, with its newly elected government putting the controversial Sinde law into effect. Wikileaks reported that the US actually helped draft the Sinde law and threatened to put Spain on a trade blacklist
if it wasn't put into force, a move that isn't altogether surprising
since SOPA's being fast-tracked through the US government at the same
time.

Copyright protection is a colossal issue for the games industry, but
bills like SOPA will do nothing to stop it and will cost the world a
great deal in personal freedoms. I think the way forward to combat game
piracy will be to adopt the same model as the music industry. ITunes
reduced the effort threshold to buying music legally so much that
millions of users prefer it over pirating, YouTube Vevo monetises
popular music through advertising, and a lot of money has been moving to
live performances. For games, this model would involve both making it
extremely easy for players to buy a game and offering a better product
than it's possible to pirate.

Steam is the
players' DRM and purchasing-platform of choice; offering free updates or
downloadable content on Steam can go a long way to securing a sale and
keeping honest people honest. Hard copies of games (even non-collector
editions) can continue to offer things you can't easily pirate, like
high-quality maps, posters, collectible pen drives and beautiful artwork
books or manuals. MMOs in particular are largely insulated from piracy
as the online community is what sells an MMO, so perhaps we should see a
lot more games for which online play is the main selling point.
Ultimately, the best way to combat piracy is just to offer a better
product than the pirates.

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PostSubject: Re: The SOPAbox: Defeating online piracy by destroying the internet   Sun Jan 15, 2012 6:35 pm





Lamar Smith, the Texas Representative behind the
much-debated "Stop Online Piracy Act," has agreed to remove a
controversial provision of the bill that would force internet service
providers block access to foreign websites accused of hosting
copyrighted materials.

This recent change eliminates one of the most contentious elements of
the legislation, which could have blocked access to online game content
or communities accused of violating copyright law. In its current state,
the bill still allows copyright holders to seek court orders to cut off
revenue sources from infringing sites.

In a statement on his website,
Smith wrote that he has chosen to remove the DNS blocking provision of
the bill "so that the Committee can further examine the issues
surrounding this provision. We will continue to look for ways to ensure
that foreign websites cannot sell and distribute illegal content to U.S.
consumers."

This change comes soon after companies and organizations from throughout
the online community spoke out against SOPA, decrying it for unfairly
restricting ordinary citizens, placing too much power in the hands of
large corporations, and more.

Over the past few days, game developers including Epic Games, Riot Games, Mojang, Red 5, and many more voiced their opposition to the bill, with some promising to shut down their games and websites in protest.

Detailing SOPA's implications for the games industry, Riot Games CEO
Brandon Beck argued that the legislation could threaten online games by
restricting user generated content, community features such as forums
and in-game chat, and more.

In its own statement against the bill, PC game vendor GOG.com said the
bill would hinder the game community, but have minimal effect on the
pirates it targets. "Pirates who torrent via P2P methods will not be
inconvenienced in the least by SOPA and PIPA [the Senate's 'Protect IP
Act']; people who post 'let’s play' walkthroughs of video games on
YouTube, though, may be," the site's organizers said.

Last week, the Electronic Software Association announced its support for the bill, though some developers, such as Weapon of Choice creator Nathan Fouts, spoke out against the organization for its decision.

The U.S. Congress' SOPA hearings are due to take place January 18 -- and
Gamasutra will continue to provide ongoing coverage of the bill and its
effects on the game industry.

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PostSubject: Re: The SOPAbox: Defeating online piracy by destroying the internet   Wed Jan 18, 2012 4:58 am

Wikipedia's homepage for the 24-hour blackout.

A West Australian IT professor has joined a worldwide chorus of internet heavyweights including Google, Wikipedia and Facebook in protest of two United States' bills aimed at curbing web piracy.

Curtin University Information Systems School head Peter Dell said the affects of the proposed Stop Internet Piracy Act and Protect IP Security Act could be "catastrophic" for other social media sites like Facebook.

Wikipedia has today gone into a 24-hour blackout in protest of the bills, which were due to be voted on the coming weeks, but which reports are already saying are now unlikely to pass the US Senate at a vote next week.


"Right now, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet. For 24 hours, to raise awareness, we are blacking out Wikipedia," the site read today.

"If these sites were felt to be facilitating copyright infringement they could be banned from online advertising, which for sites such as Facebook – where advertising is fundamental to its business model – could be catastrophic," Professor Dell said.

Professor Dell said SOPA would force ISPs to block access to social networking sites which were found to have taken part in the practice.

"Such a decision would obviously not be taken lightly, but the fact that this is what would be possible is why there has been such a loud protest against the bill," he said.

Whether the bill would actually make any difference to the extent to which copyright infringement occurs was not yet clear, Professor Dell said.

"Trying to prevent copyright infringement by blocking sites is a bit like playing "Whack-a-Mole", as soon as you knock one of them down another one pops up somewhere else," he said.

Professor Dell said he was not surprised by the move and did not believe the ongoing battle between content owners and website power houses was likely to end any time soon.

"This is a long debate. It isn't the first time that these two forces have come up against each other and it won't be the last either," he said.

"If someone tries to use some sort of legal or technical means to block something then the people in the internet find another way."

Prof Dell said catching pirates was not the solution to internet piracy, rather remodelling the ways content providers made money off the internet.

"Rather than trying to go after the owners of the site they're making it illegal to advertise on the site – using economic restrictions to get around the problem of jurisdiction," he said.

"It could probably have an impact for any site anywhere in the world. If that site is deemed to be infringing copyright material their advertising drops off the cliff because Goggle won't touch them.
"The potential for collateral damage is huge."

Google claims opposition to the bills has been backed by 41 human rights organizations, 110 law professors, more than 200 entrepreneurs, AOL, eBay, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Twitter and Yahoo.


Read more: http://www.watoday.com.au/wa-news/wa-professor-backs-wiki-blackout-20120118-1q68u.html#ixzz1jnYzv3FK

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PostSubject: Re: The SOPAbox: Defeating online piracy by destroying the internet   Wed Jan 18, 2012 7:09 pm

Gamasutra staff will not be updating the website between the hours of 8
a.m. and 8 p.m. PST on Wednesday, January 18, in protest of the Stop
Online Piracy Act, which despite some recent changes, still remains a
very real threat to freedom on the internet.

We realize that we do provide a service that many people count on daily.
But we strongly believe that ultimately, our readership, which includes
many professionals in the video game industry, would be greatly damaged
by SOPA.

With that in mind, it's important that as the leading industry-facing
game news website, Gamasutra takes a clear stance on this issue. So
we've made the tough decision to symbolically cease normal news
operations, and an ad-free version of this article will take the place
of the front page.

We will resume normal updates on Thursday morning. Comments on this
article will remain active, and we encourage our visitors to discuss
this measure.

The act is a clumsy attempt to eliminate copyright and trademark
infringement stemming from foreign "rogue sites" that are deemed by the
U.S. government or private corporations as havens for piracy. It would
give the U.S. government and copyright holders the ability to seek court
orders to block U.S. internet users from accessing sites accused of
being "primarily dedicated" to copyright and trademark infringement.

Recently, the bill's author, Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, made an attempt to
clear up some vagaries of the bill's original language. For example,
instead of targeting sites that supposedly "engage in, enable or
facilitate" copyright and trademark infringement, the act now more
specifically targets foreign sites that are "primarily dedicated" to
copyright and trademark infringement. Last week, Rep. Smith also decided
to drop the controversial Domain Name System (DNS) provision.

But those revisions are still not anywhere close to adequate. Even with
those revisions, under SOPA, content rights-holders and the U.S.
Attorney General have the ability to gain a court order to put supposed
infringers on an internet blacklist, bypass due process, and target
legitimate businesses with the threat of civil and criminal penalties.
And even though "foreign sites" are now the direct target of SOPA, U.S.
companies will bear a financial burden as a result of compliance and
legal costs pertaining to this measure.

The bill is still all about internet censorship that's akin to the kind
used in countries like Iran and China. For our non-U.S. readers who
think this won't affect you, think of how much of the internet's power
lies in the U.S., and the kind of precedent this could set for other
governments.

SOPA is a particular threat to video game companies and their fans who
partake in user-generated content, such as mods, videos and screenshots.
In general, SOPA would place a chilling effect upon many ways that game
companies interact with and foster their communities, and judging how
the games industry has been taking its products online and worldwide for
years, and positioning games as services, that's a bad thing.

So when your customers and fans are negatively affected, that also
affects the business of game developers, killing fun, creativity and
innovation, while hampering the industry's economic growth all at the
same time. The measure is still overly broad and wouldn't actually stop
piracy. It won't protect U.S. jobs, but rather put legitimate game
industry businesses in the crosshairs.

Due to the vagueness of the act, experts have said that even in its
current amended form, U.S. sites could become direct SOPA targets.
Gamasutra currently has comments sections and blogs where users can
upload content, and we're planning to expand community features.
Depending on the kinds of material posted by our readers in these
sections, will we be deemed a site that's "primarily dedicated" to
trademark and copyright infringement? Shall we hastily delete anything
that might bring down the mighty hammer of the U.S. government or some
media conglomerate?

While the SOPA hearings originally slated for Wednesday have been
delayed in light of Rep. Smith's revision to the act's DNS provision,
Gamasutra and its staff are standing in solidarity with those in the
game industry and other websites that oppose this measure.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court finally ruled that video games are
protected speech under the First Amendment. Gamasutra supports no
measure -- neither SOPA nor the similarly dangerous PIPA -- that will
undoubtedly counteract any progress this industry has made towards the
freedom to create and innovate within the art and business of video
games.

Kris Graft
Editor-in-Chief
Gamasutra.com

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PostSubject: Re: The SOPAbox: Defeating online piracy by destroying the internet   Mon Jan 23, 2012 6:27 pm





[Attorney and frequent Gamasutra contributor Mona
Ibrahim breaks down what internet blackout bills could mean for video
game developers.]


A lot of congress’ time lately has gone to drafting, revising, and
negotiating legislation that in some way shape or form controls
America’s ability to access content on the Internet. You have likely
heard about SOPA, PIPA, and maybe even OPEN—but how does this
legislation apply to game developers, and why have these pieces of
legislation created such dissention? This FAQ clarifies the details
about these bills and how they affect game development.

1. Aren’t SOPA and PIPA already dead?

No. Both acts still have substantial congressional backing and financial
support from the MPAA, RIAA, and other supporters. Although the
opposition has increased, there is still a possibility that either Act
will be become law. Even if both Acts fail, there is a high probability
that future legislation closely resembling those acts will appear before
congress again—after all, they themselves are reincarnations of an
earlier bill, the "Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act”
(COICA).

2. So what are SOPA, PIPA, and OPEN?

The "Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) and the "Preventing Real Online
Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act"
or the "PROTECT IP Act"(PIPA) are corresponding pieces of legislation
that are currently before the House of Representatives and Senate,
respectively. Both Acts grant the Attorney General the power to force
payment providers, advertisers, search engines, and DNS registries to
block access to foreign sites dedicated to infringement. The Acts also
give private parties the right to obtain court orders against infringing
sites—upon obtaining a court order, private rights holders can turn
around and, like the Attorney General, force payment providers and
advertisers to cease providing services to the allegedly infringing
site. SOPA also imposes criminal penalties for streaming content that’s
deemed infringing.

The "Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act” (OPEN Act)
is a counter-measure to SOPA and PIPA and is currently before both the
House and Senate. The OPEN Act puts prosecution power against foreign
"rogue sites” in the hands of the United States International Trade
Commission. Upon receiving a complaint, the Commission will undergo an
investigation to determine whether a site’s sole or primary purpose is
an infringing one. Unlike SOPA and PIPA, the penalties to rogue sites
are purely financial—the Commission can issue Cease and Desist orders to
payment providers and advertisers to cease operations on the rogue
site, but there is no corresponding cease and desist forcing search
engines or DNS registries to redirect or block access to the site. The
owner of the rogue site has an opportunity to raise their defense prior
to the Commission’s issuance of Cease and Desist Orders.

3. How do SOPA and PIPA threaten the games industry and game development?

Out of all of the entertainment industries, game development will
probably be the most affected if SOPA or PIPA become law. Games rely on
the Internet for everything from getting player feedback to promoting
their content. So how could the games industry suffer if SOPA or PIPA
pass?

  • Fan-based communities
    that permit users to post videos or fan-created content will be at
    serious risk of totally shutting down even in minor cases of
    infringement by its community members.
  • Funding opportunities like KickStarter,
    which enable small-time developers to create content without relying on
    a major publisher, are at risk of shutting down if even one project is
    suspected of infringement.
  • Digital distribution channels (we’ve already seen what happened to MegaUpload), including Steam and Impulse, would also be at risk for the same reason.
  • Online games and online game communities would be subject to the same threats as those websites threatened by SOPA and PIPA.
  • Games in particular are affected by any Act that threatens freedom
    of speech—especially when that threat comes from private parties
    asserting IP rights. The opportunity to use such legislation to censor
    content for motives other than those set forth in the Act is high.
Game developers both large and small rely heavily on digital
distribution and their fans. Both SOPA and PIPA pose a direct threat to
distribution channels and online communities in particular.

4. What makes SOPA and PIPA dangerous?

SOPA and PIPA are dangerous for a few reasons:

  • Both Acts use vague, ill-defined language to identify both foreign sites and sites dedicated to infringement;
  • Both Acts give search engines, DNS registries, payment providers,
    and advertisers clear incentive to proactively block websites even
    before receiving a court order—a private party/competitor could send a
    notice to those service providers claiming infringement, thereby giving
    those service providers the "good faith” belief they need to act in
    order to protect their immunity. This is particularly problematic if,
    say, an ISP is also a content provider. It gives them both the power and
    the incentive to censor their own competitors;
  • SOPA expressly criminalizes streaming content that contains
    infringing material—this could be anything from a fan-made game play
    video that has infringing music playing in the background to an
    infringing copy of a music video. Sites hosting that streamed content
    are subject to the blocking provisions set forth in SOPA (including
    internet community forums and sites like YouTube);
  • Both Acts pose a threat to constitutional rights like freedom of
    speech and due process. With regard to freedom of speech, the method of
    blocking and redirecting sites is a model traditionally used for
    purposes of censorship in more restrictive countries—even if the purpose
    of the Act is different, there is no question that the censorship of
    perfectly legal content is a possibility thanks to the incentives
    created by both Acts. As for due process, court orders are obtained ex
    parte and action can be taken against a website regardless of whether
    the website owner has actual notice—in other words, a website can be
    blocked or redirected without giving the owner an opportunity to raise a
    defense.
  • Many experts believe that the method DNS registries and registrars
    would have to use to redirect or block websites undermines Internet
    security.
Opponents of both Acts have raised a number of other complaints
citing various problems, but most arguments shake down to the fact that
the Acts provide a legal arsenal to censor perfectly legitimate content.

5. How is the OPEN Act any different?

OPEN isn’t perfect, but it is a vast improvement to both SOPA and PIPA for several reasons:

  • Private causes of action are eliminated—private parties must submit a
    complaint to the International Trade Commission, which will then
    investigate the site and make a determination as to whether it is
    infringing;
  • It expressly protects websites that act in compliance with the DMCA Safe Harbors;
  • Sites aren’t blocked or redirected and enforcement is based purely
    on financial incentives. Cease and desist orders are issued to payment
    providers and advertisers to terminate financial support to rogue sites;
  • Prior to issuing Cease and Desist orders, the Commission provides
    the owner or operator of the allegedly infringing site an opportunity to
    raise any available defenses;
  • The Act discourages groundless complaints by requiring complainants to post a bond for preliminary injunction orders.
There are other marked difference between the OPEN Act and
SOPA/PIPA, but there are some similarities as well. Some of the language
used, particularly definitions, are similar to those we see in
SOPA/PIPA. However, the OPEN Act is likely a step in the right direction
to shut down foreign piracy sites without catching innocent
non-infringers in the same net.

6. So what can I as a game developer or fan do to stop this kind of legislation?

Simply being aware of the problem isn’t enough. Opponents to the bill should contact their representatives and request that they withdraw support from bills that threaten a free and open Internet.

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