Updated, 5:16 p.m.:
Let’s say that a strongly contested measure to curb piracy on the Web by allowing the federal government to shut down sites with pirated content passes Congress. At least one Web site says that it has a way to get around the law.
“Soapy,” its creator claims, is a new Internet browser plug-in that could neutralize at least one of the ways in which government or private entities may try to keep Internet users from seeing darkened Web sites.
Under the House version of the bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), Internet giants such as Google, Facebook and YouTube could be taken offline or radically scaled back if they showed pirated content. That’s a terrifying prospect for users, content creators and, let’s be honest, investors who have poured billions into Web-based companies that would be at risk of going dark.
Supporters of the bill, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Screen Actors Guild and Comcast/NBC Universal, argue that the regulation is necessary to protect the value of copyrighted material and, in turn, to preserve American industry’s ability to innovate.
Online objection to the bill, and its Senate version, has become so emphatic that the popular Web site Reddit.com plans to shut down for 12 hours on Jan. 18 to protest the legislation by giving users what it says would be a taste of the Web under SOPA. Wikipedia founder James Wales has also floated the idea of doing the same with the crowd-sourced online encyclopedia.
But the creator of Soapy, as reported by Mashable’s Zachary Sniderman on Thursday, claims that the plug-in can neutralize SOPA, giving users (at least those who use the Firefox and, eventually, Chrome browsers) the ability to visit their favorite sites even if they’re blocked by the U.S. government.
The plug-in, according to a description on the Soapy Web site, takes users directly to a Web site’s server, bypassing what the site calls “the DNS-blocking technique favored by oppressive regimes and middle management.” The site goes on to claim that Soapy “allows users to go to web sites banned under SOPA — making SOPA, if it is passed, moot.”
Soapy’s creator, according to the site, is Griffin Boyce. In an effort to cut potential Soapy censors off at the pass, Boyce said he has made the code for the plug-in available through GitHub. That means that, like the pirated content SOPA is designed to eradicate, it’s a safe bet that the code is traveling around the world far faster than any legislation that moves through Congress. Boyce said he also has plans to make Soapy into an application, freeing users to access otherwise banned Web sites through other non-browser applications.
Washington Post blogger Dominic Basulto has written about a new political elite — a loosely-bound community of computer programmers and hackers of both the white- and black-hat variety who could influence elected officials and the overall political agenda. If Soapy could perform as advertised and make the Stop Online Piracy Act — if it passes — an exercise in legislative futility, it could make SOPA much like prohibition: a law that does more to incite criminal activity than prevent it.
Update: Soapy creator, Griffin Boyce, in e-mail correspondence with The Post, says the plug-in has been downloaded by “more than 1,400 people ... in the past 22 hours,” and that it is going through the code review process by Firefox, which takes roughly 10 days.
“It will still be available on my site in the meantime,” writes Griffin. But he admits that “it may not be approved, as its use would become illegal under SOPA.”
Boyce says he has not been contacted formally by any companies or government employees.
“Though I must admit, it would be quite humorous if it were mentioned during the January 18th congressional hearing.”
But what do you think? Could Soapy scrub out SOPA?
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