Wednesday there was a fairly impressive display of solidarity and influence by a collection of web based entities opposing the proposed SOPA and PIPA legislation that is moving through Congress at this time. Many websites, including Wikipedia, went “dark” for the day, signaling their opposition to this particular legislation. Google's response was, in my view, brilliant. They simply “blacked” their banner out with a “censor” style black bar. Point taken.
We have obligations to our users, paid subscribers and our sponsors, and therefore chose not to join this protest by blacking out WorkersCompensation.com. However, I am firmly opposed to the legislation as proposed. At the core of the issue is the fact that this law, if passed, could allow the government to disable any website for the mere suspicion of violating intellectual property laws – illegal content sharing.
It would have worked two different ways. First, the government would have been able to force search engines to “delist” any website they suspected of these activities. The second would be to require ISP's (Internet Service Providers) to disable “Domain Name Service” to the suspected sites. The DNS service is essentially what allows the “domain name” that you are familiar with to work. All websites are based on servers that are assigned numeric addresses. The primary IP for WorkersCompensation.com is 22.214.171.124. If you copy and paste that number into your browser address bar you will be taken directly to this site. The DNS service in effect provides the translation for you, so that when you type in http://www.workerscompensation.com, your computer will be told to go to IP address 126.96.36.199.
While that is a simplified description of what happens, the disabling of the DNS service for a website would completely shut it down. It may still exist, but without the DNS function, you would never find it.
The crux of the issue is that this could all happen without any due process for the website property and its principals.
I do not support illegal file sharing, and completely understand the need to uphold the intellectual property rights of content creators. But I can't support legislation that strips people's basic rights to due process, and place unchecked power into the hands of a few regulatory agencies.
WorkersCompensation.com delivers content. Lots of content. Much of what we offer is “public domain” information – statutes, rules, press releases for public distribution. Everything else we publish is done with approval. We've made mistakes a couple times over the years, when our media folks inadvertently published something the creators did not want featured here. We quickly worked to resolve those incidents. In the early days of our site's existence, two different states contacted us demanding we remove “their” content (Statutes and Rules). Our assertion that this was public domain information prevailed, and those demands were dropped. I would hate to see a situation where a mistake or a simple accusation could take us offline – shut us down – with no recourse or path to proper defense.
This is poorly crafted legislation, and Congress has started to listen. Key supporters, including President Obama, have started backing away from these bills. But we're not out of the woods yet. I ask you to join millions of other Americans in supporting our basic rights to free speech by signing an online petition opposing these bills. Congress needs to hear from all of us. “Going dark” should only be the result of our free and unrestricted choice.