Though the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, is currently hibernating until congress goes back in session in early 2012, the threat that is may yet pass is still very real. Fortunately, as if to prove how out of touch and misguided our legislators are, software developers have already created means by which Internet users could completely circumvent one of the bill's most controversial provisions.
The provision in question would force search engines, advertisers, banking and financial firms and even Internet service providers to de-list websites accused - not proven, but simply accused - of copyright infringement. The provision even includes language that would allow the Justice Department to force ISPs to falsify DNS records so as to prevent users from being able to even locate a suspect site. That's bad... particularly for Internet users who are completely uninitiated. But for the rest of us who aren't members of Congress, two brilliant Firefox add-ons provide ingenious workarounds.
The first, The Pirate Bay Dance (download Link) was released on November 30th by a group calling itself MAFIAAFire. Named for the popular (and controversial) torrent hub The Pirate bay, The Pirate Bay Dance routes users to proscribed websites through a random selection of proxies in order to evade local IP and DNA blocks. The second SOPA circumvention, called DeSopa (download link), is more subtle. Once installed, users can simply click a button to tell Firefox to ignore domestic DNS blocks entirely and locate a blocked site using its IP address via foreign DNS servers.
DeSopa developer T Rizk, speaking to Torrent Freak, explained his motivation for creating the add-on. "I feel that the general public is not aware of the gravity of SOPA," he said, adding that "Congress seems like they are about to cater to the special interests involved, to the detriment of Internet." Acknowledging the problem with expansive laws affecting aspects of society the lawgivers have no experience with, he noted that congressional members may not "understand that it is technically not going to work, at all. So here’s some proof that I hope will help them err on the side of reason and vote SOPA down." Indeed.
It's telling that though the bill hasn't passed yet, effective workarounds are already available, proving that in much the same way DRM on DVDs, music and video games does nothing to prevent piracy but greatly inconveniences law abiding consumers, the odious Internet blacklist that SOPA would authorize is equally pointless. Of course, though both add-ons defang one of SOPA's nastier aspects, there is little that could be done, save a Supreme Court decision, to stop the provision that allows 'copyright holders' (which we should understand to mean major corporate entities with lavish financial assets) to act independently of the government in order to close down accused infringers without notification or prior review. Hopefully, embarrassing developments like these will help make passage of SOPA more difficult, once Congress resumes in January.