We've discussed at length how SOPA and PIPA put additional compliance costs and liability on US companies -- something supporters of the bills still insist is untrue. However, MetaFilter founder, Matt Haughey, has explained his reasons for supporting the boycott/blackout
by telling a specific story of some of the mess he needed to go through to deal with a totally bogus DMCA claim. In my recent debate with Steve Tepp from the US Chamber of Commerce over this issue, Tepp insisted that because there are no monetary damages possible for intermediaries, there is no real "liability" for those companies. Tell that to Haughey, who relates his experience:
I've never written about my problems behind the scenes with the DMCA, a similar piece of law written to stamp out piracy but in the decade since it passed has morphed into a blunt instrument to silence websites for a variety of reasons. I was stuck in a Brazil/Catch-22 situation a little over a year ago due to a five year old song in MetaFilter Music that shared a filename with a leaked (November 2010) unreleased Michael Jackson song. Sony music group employed a dumb simple bot called "Web Sheriff" that crawled the web looking for filename matches and when found, alerted IP range owners of infringing works being offered by their customers. I got slapped with a 30 day ultimatum to immediately take down the uploaded song on MeFi Music or find my hosting account closed and banned, and all of MetaFilter erased in the process. The claims were ludicrous and I informed my host of the impossible nature of the claim but was told per DMCA guidelines I had to either file a counterclaim notice with Sony/Web Sheriff or ask them to issue a formal retraction.
I didn't want to waste money on lawyer time by filing a counterclaim and prolonging the fight so instead I had to contact Web Sheriff directly to request a retraction. This took many back-and-forth emails, and thanks to Web Sheriff being in London, added days to the process of exchanging emails. Eventually I got a human at the company to look at the dates on my files and agree it was not a Michael Jackson song. The formal retraction took nearly two weeks to secure and convince lawyers for my host that it was adequate for removing the DMCA claim. That's two weeks into a 30 day window before I lost my rack of servers and hosting account completely. I'll never forget last year when I went through this because it was two of the stupidest weeks of my life, all because of some problematic laws granted new powers to copyright holders and I had to engage in a prolonged legal fight thanks to a mistake made by a bot.
Don't think that kind of thing takes money, time and connections to handle reasonably well? The compliance costs are very, very real -- and that's just a single bogus DMCA notice. Imagine what happens when there are many -- and companies are dragged into various court battles. To say there's no compliance cost or liability under these bills is pure folly.