The European Parliament has recently voiced its opinion concerning the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) by adopting a resolution which criticises domain name seizures of “infringing” websites by US authorities.
According to the resolution, these measures need to be countered as they endanger “the integrity of the global internet and freedom of communication”. With this stance, the Parliament has joins an ever-growing list of opposition to the SOPA.
This tool for seizing domain names has been used by US authorities since 2010 when they have decided that websites are deemed to facilitate copyright infringement.
Nevertheless, last month, Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas announced the SOPA to the House of Representatives, one of the measures proposed in the bill is to give copyright holders the right to seize domain names if they deem that a foreign site is infringing their rights. This created a backlash of criticism from the public, legal experts and civil liberty groups.
The way it would work is that It allows the U.S. attorney general to seek a court order against the targeted offshore web site that would, in turn, be served on internet providers in an effort to make the target virtually disappear. Additionally, it would also allow the attorney general to blacklist infringing websites without a court-hearing or trial. And since the website is located offshore, a lawsuit in the U.S. jurisdiction would be ineffectual.
If SOPA does become law, the US would be able to shut down domains worldwide, as long as they are somehow managed by US companies. This includes the .com, .org and .net domains, and thus has the potential to affect many large websites belonging to companies in EU member states.
The resolution that the Parliament adopted was on the EU-US Summit that will be held on 28 November stated in particular to this subject: “the need to protect the integrity of the global internet of communication by refraining from unilateral measures to revoke IP addresses or domain names”.
There have been many examples of the seizures which have led to problematic situations. For example, sites such as Atdhe.net or Rojadirecta, were seized by US authorities by taking the domain name. To do this, it only took a simple warrant for Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to take it offline. This could be common practice if SOPA passes.
As stated before, the Parliament is the latest member to join the long list of opposition for the SOPA. Informal polls have been conducted by various organisations to see if internet users and the internet industry oppose or support this bill. Some polls reached around a 95% disapproval rating.
On 15 November, internet giants such as Google, Facebook, AOL, ebaY, Yahoo, Twitter, Zynga, LinkedIn, and mozilla, wrote a letter directed at ranking members of the Committee on the Judiciary expressing their concern with the SOPA. Specifically, it stated: “the bills as drafted would expose law-abiding U.S. internet and technology companies to new uncertain liabilities, private rights of action, and technology mandates that would require monitoring of web sites…We cannot support these bills as written and ask that you consider more targeted ways to combat foreign “rogue” websites dedicated to copyright infringement and trademark counterfeiting…”
By adopting a resolution against domains seizures, the Parliament is recognising the dangerous precedent that the pending SOPA legislation would set.
The US is playing a double-standard game with this legislation, as no country should have the ability to simply take over international domain names. When the EU proposed to include the aviation sector in its ETS, the US reacted harshly by lodging complaints at the European Court of Justice to annul the passing of this law.
They went as far as to propose the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011 that would make it illegal for airlines to comply with the EU law, which is the only programme worldwide that sets enforceable limits on carbon pollution from aviation. Surely, the US would react the same way as it did with the EU ETS if this plan to pass legislation to seize foreign domain names was put in motion by a foreign country.