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Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its potential impact on user content sites like HB

Postby sashaman on Tue Jan 10, 2012 10:53 pm

First, I want to say thanks for a great site! As a newbie, this site has been invaluable in teaching me about the espresso brewing process and how to evaluate equipment (still anxiously awaiting my Expobar Office Lever :-)

I realize this may be off topic, and it's usually a very good idea to stay away from anything even remotely political on a non-political forum, but given that HB gets so much of its value from its user content, this is an issue that has a direct impact on HB.

The US House of Representatives is currently considering the Stop Online Piracy Act (known as SOPA - the Senate version is the Protect IP Act). There is a strong concern among many leaders in the internet community that this act would have a severe negative effect on the free flow of information on the internet. In particular, there are grave reservations about certain provisions of the bill that could impact sites that host user-generated content. This wikipedia page, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stop_Online_Piracy_Act#Negative_impact_on_websites_that_host_user_content, explains some of the arguments.

Of course, there are 2 sides to any issue, but if you have concerns about this bill I think it would be a good idea to add a banner or link on the homepage that let's users know how it could potentially affect HB.

Again, thanks for such a great site, especially to all the tinkerers who share so many tips and technical knowledge about their machines.

Alex
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Postby HB on Fri Jan 13, 2012 9:24 pm

I agree this proposal sounds like a ham-handed way of responding to trade/copyright infringement. Chris Tacy has linked articles discussing it; here's two that I found helpful:

My main concern is that this legislation will lead to user content hosts of all sorts taking preemptive actions to avoid accusations of infringement. That's what happened years ago until Section 230 was passed, i.e., prior to that legislation, content hosts would actively edit/remove user commentary that had any question of liability associated with it (e.g., copyright, defamation) simply to reduce the risk of being sued. I could see how some content hosts with small legal budgets wouldn't be willing to take the risk and would simply shut down.
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Postby HB on Fri Jan 13, 2012 9:48 pm

FYI... Citizen Media Law Project has a good summary of the Immunity for Online Publishers Under the Communications Decency Act:

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act grants interactive online services of all types, including blogs, forums, and listservs, broad immunity from tort liability so long as the information at issue is provided by a third party. Relatively few court decisions, however, have analyzed the scope of this immunity in the context of "mixed content" that is created jointly by the operator of the interactive service and a third party through significant editing of content or the shaping of content by submission forms and drop-downs.

So what are the practical things you can take away from this guide? Here are five:

  1. If you passively host third-party content, you will be fully protected under Section 230.
  2. If you exercise traditional editorial functions over user submitted content, such as deciding whether to publish, remove, or edit material, you will not lose your immunity unless your edits materially alter the meaning of the content.
  3. If you pre-screen objectionable content or correct, edit, or remove content, you will not lose your immunity.
  4. If you encourage or pay third-parties to create or submit content, you will not lose your immunity.
  5. If you use drop-down forms or multiple-choice questionnaires, you should be cautious of allowing users to submit information through these forms that might be deemed illegal.

It is important to note Online Activities Not Covered by Section 230, especially this point that can limit Section 230's immunity:

Editing of content that materially alters its meaning. If you edit content created by a third-party and those edits make an otherwise non-defamatory statement defamatory, you will likely lose your immunity under Section 230. Where this line is, however, remains unclear. Obviously, if you remove the word "not" from a sentence that reads "Jim Jones is not a murderer," you will have substantially altered the meaning of the sentence and made an otherwise non-defamatory statement defamatory.

They elaborate on this point in Online Activities Covered by Section 230:

A website operator may take an active role in editing content, whether for accuracy or civility, and it will still be entitled to Section 230 immunity so long as the edits do not substantially alter the meaning of the content (i.e., make an otherwise non-defamatory statement defamatory). In an interesting case involving New Jersey politics, Stephen Moldow ran a website and forum where users criticized local elected officials. Muldow regularly deleted offensive messages, gave guidelines for posting, and edited and re-posted messages to remove obscenities. Although the plaintiffs argued the Moldow participated in the creation of the defamatory content and should therefore be held liable, the court concluded that Moldow's activities were nothing more than the exercise of traditional editorial functions and thus immunized under Section 230. Donato v. Moldow, 865 A.2d 711 (N.J. Super. Ct. 2005).

I have not read the SOPA legislation, but judging from the commentary, it sounds more dangerous to legitimate user content hosts facilitating the free exchange of ideas than the trade/copyright infringement problem it hopes to remedy. Surely there is a way of addressing trade/copyright infringement without harrassing innocent bystanders.
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Postby sashaman on Sat Jan 14, 2012 2:50 am

Just wanted to say thanks for posting this, and thanks for running such a great site! I just installed Eric S' E61 thermometer adapter and pulled my first shot on an HX machine this evening, and I would have been totally lost on techniques for improving my skills without this site.

Cheers,
Alex
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Postby HB on Sat Jan 14, 2012 1:39 pm

For those who are interested, you can e-mail your senators and congressional representative:

http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_i...rs_cfm.cfm
https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml

To find your congressional representative, you'll need your zipcode + 4:

http://zip4.usps.com/zip4/

For what it's worth, I've sent out three e-mails via their contact form expressing my concern as a website owner.
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Postby homeburrero on Sat Jan 14, 2012 2:52 pm

HB, thanks for posting that.

I'm lazy, and just used this site:
https://wfc2.wiredforchange.com/o/9042/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=8173
to craft a letter that gets sent to all my representatives.

Some web sites plan to go down in protest on January 18th. http://sopastrike.com/ I would certainly support that action if the HB website wanted to join in on that.
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Postby Marshall on Sat Jan 14, 2012 8:46 pm

After an initial read of the actual pending bill and, in particular, its definitions for becoming an "INTERNET SITE DEDICATED TO THEFT OF U.S. PROPERTY," I'm not quite persuaded that the sky would fall if it is passed and am even more doubtful it would have much effect on sites like H-B. But, I'll keep an open mind as the debate proceeds.
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Postby HB on Tue Jan 17, 2012 8:55 pm

Wikipedia.org plans to go dark at midnight; see English Wikipedia anti-SOPA blackout. I agree with Marshall that there's little realistic risk to small sites like HB that focus on mundane topics like coffee, but I don't think it's wise in principle to give the U.S. government a big legal stick by which to control what content is retrievable on the Internet. They should call it IPA (Internet Patriot Act :? ).
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Postby nixter on Tue Jan 17, 2012 9:04 pm

Attempting to stop online copyright infringement will be less successful than the war on drugs. Good or bad, the free exchange of data, (legal or not), is here to stay. Media giants will continue to fight and lobby government so that they can sell ice to Eskimos but eventually they will have to shift their business models in order to survive. Maybe this will mean product placement in every frame of a film, I don't know.
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Postby Marshall on Tue Jan 17, 2012 9:45 pm

nixter wrote:Media giants will continue to fight and lobby government so that they can sell ice to Eskimos ....

What if we rephrased that as: "Media companies large and small will continue to fight and lobby government so that writers can feed their families and musicians don't have to spend their lives on the road...." I know at this point in the development of the Internet that it sounds like trying to repeal the law of gravity, but there are good motives for trying to stop online piracy. I hope the right tools will some day become available.
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