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DeSopa Circumvents SOPA — Despite its Anti-Circumvention Measures

Leave it to the internet to find a way to circumvent impending laws designed solely to control it.

Pro-internet developer Tamer Rizk designed a tool that can circumvent the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and ‘save the internet’. Rizk’s app is rather ironic given that it circumvents SOPA — despite its anti-circumvention measures. His new app, called DeSopa (source on Github), is a Firefox add-on extension that can outwit SOPA by manipulating the Domain Name System.

SOPA, if/when it is approved, would force ISPs to deny service to any websites found infringing on copyright material and would use the Domain Name System (DNS) to filter offending websites. DeSopa however found a loophole: a circumvention measure of bypassing the DNS and using IP addresses to load websites instead of the DNS-given name of the website (ex. using 209.85.175.99 instead of http://www.google.com/). By checking with foreign DNS servers DeSopa can find the correct IP address without using its DNS address — and would therefore not be caught in SOPA’s web.

All of this is moot however for a couple months since on Dec 16th Congress postponed the vote on SOPA until after the new year. The move came after a verdant clash of opposing forces, typical Congressional grand-standing, the usual filibustering and even tweets of boredom from middle-ground house members. The SOPA vote will now take place in early 2012. The ruling however has become even more contentious after GoDaddy revoked its support for SOPA and whilst the Hollywood lobby continues to butt heads with online giants like Google, Facebook and hacker group Anonymous.

Should SOPA be passed in 2012 Rizk and his DeSopa Firefox add-on (which will surely be extended to other browsers) is ready to circumvent it. I however am wondering whether Rizk blew his load a little too early given that the SOPA ruling was postponed but the DeSopa release was not — giving SOPA time to plan for Rizk’s circumvention. The timing does win on a first-to-market strategy though, giving him a stiff advantage.

The anti-SOPA market may become crowded quickly though, something that Rizk openly admits: “If SOPA is implemented, thousands of similar and more innovative programs and services will sprout up to provide access to the websites that people frequent.” Rizk goes on to say outright that “SOPA is a mistake. It does not even technically help solve the underlying problem, as this software illustrates.”

On the DeSopa page Rizk writes that the ridiculous power of special interest groups over our Congress are attempting to assert control over the internet, an online playground originally designed to equalize access to information (by the way, the original creators of the internet are staunchly opposed to SOPA). According to Rizk this control would have dire consequences for the internet and repercussions for the rest of us, including censorship of user-generated content on our favorite social networks like Google, Facebook and YouTube — leading to possible shut-downs. Another repercussions is that it provides well-financed trade groups like the MPAA and RIAA the power to shape the internet and it creates an inordinately high entrance barrier to startups. In addition SOPA may dissolve the DNS system — the very system it operates on. Rizk wrote that the dissolution of the DNS is probable and will be “caused by the natural circumvention of blocked sites will result in wide array of security problems”.

Rizk clearly states that his program, DeSopa, is proof that SOPA is not an effectual method of controlling copyright infringement and online piracy. DeSopa “is proof of concept that SOPA will not help prevent piracy.”

Hmm… perhaps that was Rizk’s goal after all. To release his program far ahead of a Congressional SOPA decision in hopes of convincing Congress that SOPA is moot. A clever man that Rizk.