Congress’s Piracy Blacklist Plan: A Cure Worse than the Disease?

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First, blacklisting and disappearing sites will likely do little to stop committed pirates. For one thing, a blacklisted site will still exist and will still be accessible from its numerical address.

A quick Google search shows that there already are pirate streaming sites known only by their numerical IP address. There are also browser plugins that will translate a rogue site’s name into its numerical address even if the DNS server doesn’t (although SOPA would criminalize the distribution of such add-ons). And a committed infringer could also simply switch to using a foreign DNS server not bound by the U.S. blacklist.

As for casual infringement, it’s true that some users may well simply give up after an unresponsive query. On the margin, therefore, DNS filtering will no doubt reduce piracy. But what we have to ask ourselves is, at what cost? And that cost is legitimizing government blacklists of forbidden information.

At a moment when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is urging world governments to keep their hands off the Internet, creating a blacklist would send the wrong message. And not just to China or Iran, which already engage in DNS filtering, but to liberal democracies that might want to block information they find naughty. Imagine if the U.K. created a blacklist of American newspapers that its courts found violated celebrities’ privacy? Or what if France blocked American sites it believed contained hate speech? We forget, but those countries don’t have a First Amendment.

The result could be a virtually broken Internet where some sites exist for half the world and not for the other. The alternative is to leave the DNS alone and focus (as the bills also do) on going after the cash flow of rogue websites. As frustrating as it must be for the content owners who are getting ripped off, there are some cures worse than the disease.

MORE: Stronger Online Privacy Regulation Comes with Tradeoffs

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