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This article was published on February 17, 2012

    Who needs SOPA? Legitimate sites can already be taken offline by over-zealous authorities

    Who needs SOPA? Legitimate sites can already be taken offline by over-zealous authorities
    Martin Bryant
    Story by

    Martin Bryant

    Founder

    Martin Bryant is founder of Big Revolution, where he helps tech companies refine their proposition and positioning, and develops high-qualit Martin Bryant is founder of Big Revolution, where he helps tech companies refine their proposition and positioning, and develops high-quality, compelling content for them. He previously served in several roles at TNW, including Editor-in-Chief. He left the company in April 2016 for pastures new.

    Yesterday we reported on how New York startup Jotform had its .com domain suspended as part of a US Secret Service investigation. Today, the domain has been reinstated, but some serious questions remain.

    Jotform wasn’t told why this happened, and all its DNS provider GoDaddy could tell it was to contact the Secret Service. As we reported yesterday, despite Jotform being apparently willing to help in any way it could, it was brushed off by a Secret Service agent who was too busy to help.

    Then following, and who knows – perhaps because of, press coverage here and elsewhere, the domain started working properly again. Jotform tells us that it still hasn’t received any information about the alleged criminal activity supposedly taking place on its site, which allows users to create Web-based forms. The startup believes that it may have been a phishing form that slipped through its filters. Jotform wasn’t informed about the reinstatement and didn’t receive an apology for the disruption caused to its business.

    While the domain’s reinstatement is good news for Jotform’s business, it does highlight a serious issue. For all the outcry about the now shelved SOPA, wasn’t really needed in the US. ‘The authorities’ can snatch a domain from anyone without notice or discussion.

    Now, if we’re talking about a site that’s engaged in clearly illegal behaviour (unauthorized filesharing, for example), this could perhaps be justified, or at least understandable, if a due legal process had been followed (and that’s assuming that it had). However, to effectively (if temporarily) close down a legitimate business that has a tiny percentage of possibly illegal, user-generated content, without fair trial? That’s the kind of activity you expect from dictatorship.

    Just because it’s the relatively small Jotform with its 700,000 users today, who’s to say it won’t be Tumblr or another big name next?

    America may have defeated SOPA for now but if legitimate businesses can be taken down so easily and not given solid information as to why – and immediate advice on how to get back online – there’s clearly a wider issue that needs addressing urgently.