No post yesterday in solidarity with anti-SOPA. Since all the news sites (and even Wikipedia itself, actually) seem to say not much more about the bill than that opponents say it would stifle the internet and supporters say it would protect copyright holders (which applies to just about any bill on the subject, independent of what the bill actually does*), here’s the relevant part of what the bill actually does:

The bill also establishes a two-step process for intellectual property rights holders to seek relief if they have been harmed by a site dedicated to infringement. The rights holder must first notify, in writing, related payment facilitators and ad networks of the identity of the website, who, in turn, must then forward that notification and suspend services to that identified website, unless that site provides a counter notification explaining how it is not in violation. The rights holder can then sue for limited injunctive relief against the site operator, if such a counter notification is provided, or if the payment or advertising services fail to suspend service in the absence of a counter notification.

That is, if someone who claims to hold a copyright claims that a website has copyright-infringing material, they can get the whole website taken down, with its restoration pending a lawsuit to determine whether there was actually copyright-infringing material or whether the suer even had a copyright at all. (If the registrar keeps the site up and the lawsuit determines that it did have copyright-infringing material, the registrar is in legal trouble, and there’s no penalty for being wrong in the other direction.)

In terms that perhaps even its author**, Lamar Smith (R-TX) could understand, it’s as if it gave anyone (including you) the power to order the police to arrest anyone you claim is a thief. The police can arrest them or not, at their discretion, pending a lawsuit to determine whether they’re a thief. If the police think the claim is ridiculous and don’t arrest them, but the lawsuit says they are a thief, then the police are in trouble too. (If they do arrest the claimed thief, they’re legally ok either way).

*This is disturbing because it leaves people to sort themselves into camps purely by whether they think of themselves as anti-pirate or pro-internet***, with the bill’s actual contents irrelevant—all the news reporting could equally well be for a bill proposing the creation of paramilitary squads to kill suspected pirates, and the only reason reporting’d be different on it is that that even a typical congressperson or journalist could understand.

**Probably a misnomer; he’s its sponsor.

***Depressingly, I think this is basically how the vote on the bill will go, with possibly some adjustment for how loudly the pro-internet and anti-pirate camps are shouting at the moment or how many times the bill has been revised in a way that the revisers say is a concession. This is how democracy by “let your representative know how important this is” works.