Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Foreign Libraries Will Be Infringing Sites Under SOPA

On January 1, "Public Domain Day", another year was added to the copyright gap between the US and the rest of the world. In most of the world, New Year's Day marked the end of copyright for works by authors who died in 1941. But not in the USA. Copying and distribution of gap works may be legal and unrestricted in most countries, but these activities are criminal acts of copyright infringement in the US, punishable by up to 10 years of prison.

One effect of SOPA, the "Stop Online Piracy Act" (which almost means "garbage" in Swedish) is that the US Attorney General will be able to extend the effect of US copyright law to foreign web sites. For example, Project Gutenberg Australia (PGA) distributes electronic versions of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, which is still under copyright in the US. SOPA would allow the US Attorney General to make a determination that Project Gutenberg Australia, by allowing access from the US, is a "U.S. directed site" that would be subject to forfeiture by the Attorney General for acts prohibited under section 2319 of the U.S. Criminal Code (ongoing copyright infringement), if it were based in the US.

If Project Gutenberg Australia persisted in its criminal activity, SOPA would allow the Attorney General to force internet service providers in the US to block access to the PGA domain. It would also allow the Justice Department to force Google and other US-based search engines to remove PGA links from its search results for the US. It could force Wikipedia to remove links to PGA. Most damaging to PG Australia, it would allow Justice to cut off PGA's revenue from Google's advertising services.

As libraries around the world move aggressively into the digital environment, they will de-emphasize the cataloguing of printed objects in favor of delivery of electronic content, especially public-domain and public-commons content that can be delivered without per-copy fees. They will run up against the same copyright extraterritorial issues exhibited today by Project Gutenberg Australia. If SOPA is enacted as currently written and our system of perpetual copyright persists, we can assume that most of the world libraries will sooner or later be blacklisted from the American internet. And the real bad-guy sites will easily circumvent the blacklist.

The Swedish word "sopa" is not really used as a singular noun. As a verb, it means "to sweep". The plural "sopor" is the stuff you sweep up. "Sopa bort" is what should be done with SOPA.

1 comment:

  1. Speaking as a member of the Rest Of The World, I struggle to see how America thinks it will be to its advantage to cut itself off from the unencumbered works that the rest of us will be enjoying. I suppose there was a time not so long ago when the USA could throw its weight around and insist that the ROTW fall in line with it. Now? Not so much. Barriers erected between the USA and ROTW will hurt both sides, but they'll hurt the USA more.

    Still: you'll be able to find Project Gutenberg Australia's IP address easily enough, no doubt.