New House bill could kick you and your website off the Internet

The U.S. Capital and the Washington, D.C., skyline.

Anti-piracy legislation is nothing new in Washington. The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed a bill just last spring, and although there is nothing on the president's desk just yet, there seems to be a push to give law enforcement more muscle to go after people who post unlicensed content.

The Stop Online Piracy Act also goes by another name: The E-PARASITES Act. It stands for Enforcing and Protecting American Rights Against Sites Intent on Theft and Exploitation Act. If it passes, that muscle would certainly be available.

Mark A. Lemley is a professor at Stanford Law School and director of the Stanford Program in Law, Science, and Technology. He says, "What's remarkable about this provision is that it would allow the government and in many cases private parties to come into court, get a temporary restraining order without the participation of the accused website and shut down not just the infringing material, but the whole website."

So the site would be shut down without the accused even being convicted. Furthermore, the person running the site would be in trouble too. The bill, says Lemley, "allows the government to shut down someone's access to the Internet. Not in the kind of classic sense of cutting someone off from their Internet service provider, but actually requiring every Internet service provider and every search engine to blacklist you, to put you on a list that they won't send packets to your Internet address."

So who exactly would get nailed here? The bill is kind of vague about that. One paragraph in a 79-page write-up saying you mustn't infringe on copyright or facilitate infringement. Facilitate? Like links? Lemley says, "The United States government in a pending case is taking the position that anybody who links to a website where there is infringing material is engaged in facilitation of copyright infringement. If the government continues to take that position, Google, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube -- all sites that exist at the sufferance of the U.S. government -- because they're all sites that link to and therefore in the government's view 'faciliate' copyright infringement."

As for the future of a bill like this in Washington, it's hard to say. The issue doesn't really break down along Democrat vs. Republican lines, says Tony Romm of Politico. "You've got some of the more liberal leading groups who say it gives the Department of Justice too much power and would essentially let them shut down websites, in a way that could be seen as censorship in other countries. And at the same time, agreeing with them are Tea Party groups. You've got Rep. Michele Bachmann and some others who also see it as a great overreach by the Department of Justice in a way that just doesn't sit well with some of those folks. No one seems to disagree on the premise that something has to be done about pirated content, but how they do it is cause for great debate here in Washington."

Also on today's program, there are a whole lot of things you can't do on Facebook, even though there are lots of links and emails telling you that you can. You can't play Mario Kart on Facebook (it's a scam, will give you malware), you can't claim a free Cheesecake Factory dinner on Facebook (it's a scam, will steal your personal information), and no matter what an email apparently from Mark Zuckerberg says you did not win the Facebook lottery. That's a scam too.

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

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