Detailed Analysis of the Text of SOPA

Chris Heald, at Mashable, has read the text of SOPA so you don’t have to. He brings a programmer’s sensibility to determinedly slog through it. I like the analogy between scrutinizing legislation and unraveling spaghetti code.

As an example, here is his synthesis of what he calls The Sledgehammer, section 103.

Wow, now there’s a chunk of legalese that’ll make your eyes gloss over. Let’s cut straight to the nasty bits.

An `Internet site is dedicated to theft of U.S. property’ if [a portion of the site is US-directed] and is used by users within the United States and is primarily designed or operated for the purpose of offering services in a manner that enables or facilitates [copyright violation or circumvention of copyright protection measures].

Still doesn’t sound that bad, but consider this: Any site that allows users to post content is “primarily designed for the purpose of offering services in a manner that enables copyright violation.” The site doesn’t have to be clearly designed for the purpose of copyright violation; it only has to provide functionality that can be used to enable copyright violation.

The implication is that this flies in the face of post-DMCA case law that raises a burden to prove that the operator of a site willfully and knowingly has set it up for the express purposes of infringement. The wording is tricky and Heald puts his finger right on the fraught interpretation that de-couples the outcome from the intent.

If you want to understand the problems with this bill in great detail, Heald’s write up is an an excellent guide. If you are less patient and want the executive summary, skip right to the section labeled, “To Sum Up”.


  • Gives the government the right to unilaterally censor foreign websites.
  • Gives copyright holders the right to issue economic takedowns and bring lawsuits against website owners and operators, if those websites have features that make it possible to post infringing content.
  • Makes it a felony offense to post a copyrighted song or video.

Why SOPA Is Dangerous, Mashable

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