Yesterday my website, michaelgeist.ca, went dark for 12 hours with thousands of posts replaced by a single page warning against proposed U.S. legislation called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). My site was not alone as the online protest included some of the Internet’s most popular sites including Wikipedia, Craigslist, and Reddit. It is nice to be in good company, but taking an academic site committed to open access to information offline on a day when thousands came visiting anxious to learn more copyright and the Internet was not a decision to take lightly.
My decision had little to do with the expectation that Canadians can influence U.S. legislation since it is pretty clear they can’t. Rather, there were four main reasons why I thought participation in the â€œSOPA protestsâ€ was essential.
The first has to do with the substance of the proposed laws themselves, which are designed to have an extra-territorial effect that manifests itself particularly strongly in Canada. SOPA treats all dot-com, dot-net, and dot-org domain as domestic domain names for U.S. law purposes. Moreover, it defines “domestic Internet protocol addresses” – the numeric strings that constitute the actual address of a website or Internet connection – as “an Internet Protocol address for which the corresponding Internet Protocol allocation entity is located within a judicial district of the United States.”
Yet IP addresses are allocated by regional organizations, not national ones. The allocation entity located in the U.S. is called ARIN, the American Registry for Internet Numbers. Its territory includes the U.S., Canada, and 20 Caribbean nations. This bill treats all IP addresses in this region as domestic for U.S. law purposes.
To put this is context, every Canadian Internet provider relies on ARIN for its block of IP addresses. In fact, ARIN even allocates the block of IP addresses used by federal and provincial governments. The U.S. bill would treat them all as domestic for U.S. law purposes.
Second, Canadian businesses and websites could easily find themselves targeted by SOPA. The bill grants the U.S. “in rem” jurisdiction over any website that does not have a domestic jurisdictional connection. For those sites, the U.S. grants jurisdiction over the property of the site and opens the door to court orders requiring Internet providers to block the site and Internet search engines to stop linking to it.
Third, millions of Canadians rely on the legitimate sites that are affected by the legislation. Whether creating a Wikipedia entry, posting a comment on Reddit, running a WordPress blog, participating in an open source software project, or reading a posting on BoingBoing, the lifeblood of the Internet is a direct target of SOPA. If Canadians remain silent, they may ultimately find the sites and services they rely upon silenced by this legislation.
Fourth, the U.S. intellectual property strategy has long been premised on exporting its rules to other countries, including Canada. The same forces that have lobbied for SOPA and PIPA in the U.S. are the primary lobbyists behind the digital lock provisions in Bill C-11 and the recent submission to the U.S. government arguing that Canada should not be admitted to the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations until it complies with U.S. copyright demands.
SOPA virtually guarantees that this will continue. Not only is it likely that the U.S. will begin to incorporate SOPA-like provisions into its IP demands, but SOPA makes it a matter of U.S. law to ensure that intellectual property protection is a significant component of U.S. foreign policy and grants more resources to U.S. embassies around the world to increase their involvement in foreign legal reform.
Even if SOPA dies, the mounting battle over Internet restrictions seems destined to continue. In the U.S., a son-of-SOPA is bound to appear should the bill die, while in Canada, the government has remained steadfast in supporting the Bill C-11 digital lock rules despite widespread public opposition. For those concerned with Internet and digital rights, more days of protest may lie ahead.
Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can reached at email@example.com or online at www.michaelgeist.ca.