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{Colorado Springs Gazette, 2011-12-21}

When a piece of freedom-busting legislation has bipartisan support, you know we’re in trouble. As one humorist wrote, “Bipartisan support is when your ex and her lawyer agree you have a problem.”

The latest pile of bipartisan waste working its way through the bowels of Congress toward its ultimate destination is the [[Stop Online Piracy Act]]. Ostensibly designed to prevent online piracy of movies and music, it will do nothing of the sort.

Remember, this comes from the marketing department that brought you the [[Patriot Act]], the [[Social Security Act]] and the [[Communications Decency Act]]. What’s next, the My Mom is Great Act? Who could be against patriotism, the security of society, or decent communications? Nobody likes online piracy. The devil is in the details.

SOPA gives the Department of Justice the authority to force firms to stop doing business with websites that take “deliberate actions to avoid confirming a high probability” of copyright infringement. Everybody got that?

Once you sift through the jargon, you learn some basic things. SOPA is designed to allow copyright holders who believe that a website isn’t working hard enough to protect their copyrights to force the DOJ to shut them down, not only through “cease and desist” orders to advertisers, but also through the [[Domain Name Service]] registry, or DNS.

DNS software is the part of the Internet that turns website names, like, into Internet protocol (IP) addresses, like If you use your computer to surf the Web, you use DNS. SOPA thinks that “shutting down” a website means removing the site’s name from DNS. This means that teens who stay up past their bedtime to visit will get a “site not found” message. And perhaps a knock on the door from the local constabulary.

Most of you know that I’m a greybeard computer scientist. I’m so old that I’ve been using email since Tom Cruise ran a brothel (google “[[Risky Business]]”). As an aging computer geek, I know something about DNS. I’m helping to write a new version of it.

Anybody who knows anything about DNS knows that removing a DNS entry doesn’t do jack. There’s nothing to stop rogue websites from registering under a different name and resurfacing in hours, or even minutes. Nor, realistically, do sites even need names. Any tech-savvy teen (and who among them isn’t) can get a listing of rogue sites by IP address alone. It’s just not that tough. Except maybe for most of Congress.

But in Washington, none of these pesky details matter. Nor does, say, the presumption of innocence, nor even being able for American citizens to clearly understand whether or not they might be breaking the law. It’s about the sheer hubris of believing that government can accomplish anything people want just by passing a law.

That’s a fatal conceit, whether made by the right or left.

I believe in the rights of creators to their creations. I respect the rights of everyone to their property, provided they obtained it honestly. If I could wave a magic wand that would stop intellectual property theft and punish those responsible, with no other negative consequences, I’d do it. But I can’t.

Neither, for that matter, can Congress. SOPA, just like the Communications Decency Act before it and numerous other attempts to make the Internet behave, will not accomplish its intended objectives. In fact it will make things worse. In the words of one of the few Congressmen who picked up his clue phone when it rang: “Butchering the Internet is not a way forward.”