December 15, 2011 | By Parker Higgins

Free Speech's Weak Links Under Internet Blacklist Bills

The Internet Blacklist bills — the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate’s PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) — would have a disastrous effect on online freedom of speech. In order to understand the ways a site placed on the blacklist could be denied a chance to connect with an audience, we’ve used our Free Speech is Only as Strong as the Weakest Link chart.


The Internet Blacklist bills would subject non-domestic platforms and webhosts to the possibility of court injunctions that could require to payment interruptions or even DNS blocking in the U.S. Preparing for and responding to this legal action would be expensive, and would create an incentive for those platforms to impose more restrictions on user uploads. Further, platforms that haven't yet been developed will have more difficulty getting off the ground without a legal team.


The Internet Blacklist Legislation would allow the U.S. government and individual rights holders to seek court orders requiring payment processors and ad networks to stop doing business with blacklisted sites – even if those sites contain non-infringing content.


The Internet Blacklist Legislation would require service providers to limit access to a blacklist of sites that the attorney general or a court has deemed to be infringing. PIPA explicitly mentions DNS blocking as the technique to block sites.  The latest version of SOPA requires only “the least burdensome, technically feasible, and reasonable means designed to prevent access by its subscribers located within the United States to the foreign infringing site that is subject to the order” but also that  “Such actions shall be taken as expeditiously as possible." But, realistically, the consensus is that DNS blocking, in spite of its tendency to fracture the Internet geographically, is the technique ISPs are most likely to use.


Under the Internet Blacklist Legislation search engines would be required to remove blacklisted sites from their results. PIPA uses the term "information location tools", which refers to section 512(d) of the DMCA. SOPA refers to "Internet search engines", and requires them to "prevent the serving, in response to a query, of a direct hypertext link" to a blacklisted site.

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