Schmidt on SOPA

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt made some interesting comments on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) during and after a recent visit to the Economic Club of Washington. In discussing SOPA, Schmidt had the following to say, as relayed by Gautham Nagesh at TheHill.com:

An online piracy bill in the House would "criminalize linking and the fundamental structure of the Internet itself," according to Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt. Schmidt said the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) would punish Web firms, including search engines, that link to foreign websites dedicated to online piracy. He said implementing the bill as written would effectively break the Internet.

"By criminalizing links, what these bills do is they force you to take content off the Internet," Schmidt said, calling it a form of censorship. "If Congress writes a bad law, we all suffer," Schmidt said. He compared the proposal to the Web censorship practiced by repressive foreign governments like China.

"It's not a good thing. I understand the goal of what SOPA and PIPA are trying to do," Schmidt said of the Senate counterpart bill, the Protect IP Act. "Their goal is reasonable, their mechanism is terrible. They should not criminalize the intermediaries. They should go after the people that are violating the law."

Schmidt also criticized SOPA for targeting the Domain Name System, which experts have warned could undermine the security of the Web. "What they're essentially doing is whacking away at the DNS system and that's a mistake. It's a bad way to go about solving the problem," Schmidt said.

While it is plain that Schmidt has a vested interest in ensuring that SOPA doesn't pass as currently written, his comments summarize the perspectives of many internet freedom activists as well. To them, SOPA is seen as a potential encroachment on the freedom of internet users that, once lost, will never be regained.

There are some legitimate concerns about protecting intellectual property on the internet, particularly because of its global nature. However, there are solutions that don't create such a great potential for infringing on the rights of web users. In other words, follow the money. Don't penalize those who link to or seek information, penalize those who host pirated content. Otherwise, the internet as we know it could soon be a thing of the past.


  1. The intransigent problem that SOPA is meant to address is that hosts of content are sometimes physically located in territories beyond the long arm's grasp. And even if their sites are blocked or domain names shut down, another can be erected.

    That might be enough to disrupt the traffic, if would-be downloaders couldn't find them faster than the government. But others create (and profit from) sites whose sole purpose is to direct consumers to new piracy sites hosting the same content. It's akin to a Yellow Pages for illicit goods.

    Advertising where to find the best fences (or the best drug dealers, or the best sellers of pirated DVDs) is already illegal, whether in print or on the Internet. But SOPA would overreach and criminalize even innocuous links.

  2. Josh Sturtevant13/12/11 19:13

    Thanks for the comment.

    I agree totally, especially with regards to your final conclusion.

    SOPA creates a classic and clear potential for overreach and it is easy to see the types of problems it could create for internet users.

    This legislation has a lot of eyes on it; hopefully that will be enough to rid it of its more noxious elements.

  3. Sounds to me like it would have the same effects that gun control and drug prohibition laws do. No real effect on the criminals, but a serious negative impact on the general system.

  4. Thanks... Agree 100%. I can't see any real upside to this legislation, but I can see an awful lot of potential for abuse and overreach.

  5. The analogy is fine but the conclusion is flawed. Consider the massive number of violent felons serving life-sentences for gun-control violations. It is absurd to allege that gun control laws have no impact on them.

    Second, consider the massive number of websites whose sole purpose is to help people find pirated content. The law would make it easier to police those websites. Decriminalizing things results in fewer criminals as a rule, but not by changing behavior.

  6. Josh Sturtevant17/12/11 11:41

    Thanks for the comment.

    I suppose we are now shifting the discussion into the realm of whether or not one considers particular behaviors to be wrong because they are morally wrong or just legally wrong in addition to discussing economic behavior.

    If I am not mistaken, I think Robbo would say that drug laws are morally wrong, and that the government is wrong to create and enforce them. He might say the same with respect to gun laws.

    I wouldn't agree 100% (when I did so above, it was with respect to the analogy itself) with that; I think some gun laws are helpful and I am not sure full-blown decriminalization of drug possession is the answer. However, I do believe that a different drug law regime would result in less street level violence, less border issues, etc. It might not change consumer behavior, but it would sure change the infrastructure around the drug trade and sales.

    Similar reasoning on the gun front. If more people had guns legally, it is possible that those who use guns violently now would be deterred. I can also sympathize with the idea that it could create more gun violence...I believe you can find examples of both types of behavior throughout the globe and history.

    Shifting back to SOPA, I believe that this law focuses on the wrong individuals. The pirates should be the focus of laws, not the facilitators. I know that there are long-arm issues with finding and prosecuting these individuals in many cases. However, for me the potential to overreach is more of a concern than shutting down some livestream sites.

    If you are interested in this topic, we will be posting something shortly discussing governmental suppression of speech on the internet later today.