Is this the only concern with the bill? SOPA also would allow the government to ask ISPs to use DNS blocking, filtering and other "feasible and reasonable" methods to cut off access to foreign infringing websites from the U.S. It would let the government order search engine companies like Google to disable links to infringing sites in search engine results and ask payment providers to stop services to targeted sites. Foreign sites subject to such actions are those that would have been liable for criminal prosecution in the U.S if the site were based in the U.S.
Really, isn't this the most effective way to deal with rogue offshore sites? Since most are outside the reach of U.S. law enforcement, it may well be. But the problem, according to critics, is that SOPA is worded in a way that leaves U.S. companies wide open to similar actions from content owners. The bill refers to "U.S.-directed" websites. That term can apply to any and every site that can be accessed by a U.S.-based user. So, in theory, at least, a YouTube or a Flickr or an EBay could be targeted by content owners for carrying copyrighted content.
But doesn't the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) grant immunity to website owners for content posted by users? Yes, it does. The DMCA offers website owners a Safe Harbor for content posted on their site by users. So, YouTube for instance cannot be held responsible if one of its users posts copyright infringing material on its site. DMCA allows content owners to ask the YouTubes of the world to take down infringing material. But they cannot sue the site itself unless it refuses.
So U.S. websites are protected from SOPA then? Not really. Critics contend that SOPA will let content owners do an end-run around DMCA. With SOPA, content owners need not bother with takedown notices. They can target an entire website if they choose to.
That's just FUD, isn't it. Supporters of the bill insist that SOPA is targeted mainly at the worst of the worst offshore rogue websites. The bill describes such sites as those that are "primarily designed or operated" for the purpose of offering infringing and counterfeit goods and services and little else. That definition would seem to exclude sites that may occasionally carry an infringing item or two, but are not dedicated to copyright theft and counterfeiting.
What recourse do targeted websites have? The law will offer targeted websites between five and seven days to explain why they should not be subject to the prescribed action. Relief for targeted websites will be available in accordance with Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. But the operators of such foreign sites will first need to agree to be subject to U.S. laws.