Parker Higgins is a Staff Activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and occasional author at Netzpiloten.de. We ask Parker some questions about the SOPA and PIPA in the USA and what it mean to us in Europe.
1. The two US bills SOPA & PIPA were just averted after massive criticism. Can you sum up what they were meant to do, and why they were problematic?
Supporters of the bills argued that SOPA and PIPA were necessary to fight a class of „rogue“ foreign sites that have no assets in the U.S., but that were facilitating unauthorized downloading by Americans. These sites, the supporters say, aren’t possible to prosecute under existing U.S. law.
There are a couple of issues with that. The first is that there isn’t a lot of evidence that these sorts of sites exist as a major problem, which is compounded by the fact that the content industries‘ numbers are never available for peer review and are notoriously difficult to trust. When the U.S. Trade Representative compiled an „out-of-cycle“ report about the „rogue“ sites in question, they were only able to list 19 sites. And one of those sites was MegaUpload, which was recently closed by the FBI.
So because the problem’s not well-defined, the solution is bound to be a bit rough. In the case of SOPA and PIPA, it was very rough. Civil liberties groups like EFF and the ACLU were joined by first amendment scholars, tech companies, cyber-security experts, and many others in pointing out the collateral damage these bills would cause to the Internet as we know it. And on top of all that, the consensus was that these bills were unlikely to be effective in stemming the problem they identified, because their technical measures would be pretty trivial to circumvent.
SOPA and PIPA hit that sweet spot of unnecessary, harmful, and ineffective that made it easy for people who heard about them to decide they were opposed and let their legislators know about it.