Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Protect IP Works


The Problems with Protect IP
One objection critics make to Protect IP is that the senators supporting the bill may not really understand how the Internet works.
One objection critics make to Protect IP is that the senators supporting the bill may not really understand how the Internet works.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

One concern critics have raised about Protect IP is that it could harm free speech. For example, the site WikiLeaks is a whistleblower outlet where people can submit documents from government agencies or corporations that reveal unethical or perhaps even illegal activities. Its stated purpose is to provide transparency so that the average Internet surfer can learn what these powerful organizations are up to. Part of the power of WikiLeaks is that it hosts thousands of documents belonging to other organizations. Under Protect IP, WikiLeaks could be in danger of being hamstrung financially and it would be more difficult for someone in the United States to visit the site.

Then there's a fear that messing with the domain name system could compromise a security protocol that's been in development for several years. It's called DNSSEC, and its purpose is to provide end-to-end encryption between two machines on the Internet. If you want to use the Internet to access sensitive data such as medical or financial records, you'd probably want a secure connection and encrypted data so that other people can't snoop on your personal business. DNSSEC helps provide this connection. But if the government requires ISPs to block or redirect traffic to certain domain names, the connections between your machine and the one you're communicating with could be compromised. That's because information doesn't flow in a simple pathway on the Internet -- it's broken down into chunks that travel via different pathways to get to the computer on the other side, where files are reassembled for the user.

Then there's the argument that legislation like Protect IP has little justification. Organizations like the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America claim that piracy costs the industry billions of dollars and thousands of jobs each year. Yet, the United States Government Accountability Office published a report in 2010 that revealed it is impossible to determine what the actual damages due to piracy could be. That's because not every person who pirates a piece of content would have otherwise purchased it legitimately. And since digital content can be copied an indefinite number of times, there's no demonstrable loss because the content owner can still sell legitimate copies of the content. It's complicated.

But perhaps the most damaging criticism leveled by critics is that Protect IP wouldn't really stop piracy. While blocking or redirecting domain names would be a nuisance, it's not difficult to get around the problem. You could navigate to sites by typing in the IP address directly. It's not hard to imagine Web sites dedicated to maintaining lists of IP addresses that direct to blocked sites. And users can even navigate to foreign servers to resolve domain names without being blocked or redirected. Several hackers have released extensions for popular Web browsers that will do all the work for users behind the scenes, meaning there will be no noticeable effect on the user experience.

Cutting off funds could potentially impact piracy sites but not all piracy sites are profit-oriented. But this part of Protect IP could be the most effective means for intellectual property holders to protect their interests.

Next, we'll learn about what's happened with Protect IP since it was introduced in the Senate in 2011.


More to Explore