But wait: doesn’t SOPA have to be voted into law before site seizures can take place?
Isn’t that the whole point of the hearings and debates? Apparently not: over Thanksgiving, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Homeland Security forcibly seized the domains of more than 130 sites, according to details first discovered by Torrentfreak.
This is just the sort of thing that SOPA would authorize, if passed. In the interim, there is some judicial process involved, specifically involving US District Court authorizations according to the agencies. But there’s little information on what due processes currently exist, and if any of these sites could have appealed the guillotine.
In the latest round, the list seems mostly comprised of obvious knock-off sites. These are ‘stores’ that are selling fake stuff and ripping off legitimate outlets, but the question is whether this sort of ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ approach ultimately punishes legitimate players. Or, in the case of a gray area, unfairly favors larger content owners and businesses without enough due process.
Which is exactly what happened to hip-hop site OnSmash last year. The heavily-trafficked OnSmash (onsmash.com, now offline) was routinely being used by major label marketing teams to push new product, yet the RIAA itself ordered the hit. This is a site that needed a judge and jury, not a midnight teardown, which is exactly what the SOPA debate is all about. In fact, a lack of due process is one of the reasons why the bill now seems to be in trouble.
So, does this mean that if SOPA doesn’t pass, the DOJ will act as if it did? It’s a scary question to ponder.