Online Piracy, Property Bills Shelved
By John M. Williams
The Stop Online Piracy Act ( SOPA ) and PIPA (Protect
Intellectual Property Act) are aimed at curbing access to overseas websites
that traffic in pirated content and counterfeit products, such as movies and
music, especially those registered outside the United States. For now, voting
on both bills has been postponed.
SOPA (H.R. 3261) was introduced by Representative Lamar
Smith, R-Texas, in October 2011; PIPA was introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy,
D-Vt., in May 2011. SOPA's provisions include requesting court orders to bar
advertising networks and payment facilities from conducting business with
infringing websites, and search engines from linking to the sites, while
requiring Internet service providers to block site access. SOPA also would
expand laws to include unauthorized streaming of copyright material and an
imposition of a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Supporters (mainly movie and music lobbying organizations
) say SOPA protects the intellectual property market and corresponding
industry, jobs and revenue, and is necessary to bolster enforcement of
copyright laws , especially against foreign websites. Proponents have said that
flaws in laws do not cover foreign-owned and -operated sites and have cited
examples of active promotion of rogue websites by domestic search engines. They
also say that stronger enforcement tools are needed.
The technology community has come out strongly against
SOPA . Opponents say the proposed legislation threatens free speech and
innovation, and that it would enable law enforcement to block access to entire
Internet domains because of infringing material posted on a single blog or
webpage. They fear that SOPA could bypass the protections from liability
currently afforded to Internet sites by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Library associations have expressed concerns that the
bill's emphasis on stronger copyright enforcement would expose libraries to
prosecution. Other opponents state that requiring search engines to delete a
domain name could begin a worldwide arms race of unprecedented censorship and
violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Opposition to the legislation produced a torrent of more
than a million emails directed to Congress that carried the phrase Don't
Break the Internet."
On January 18 th , thousands of websites, including Reddit
and the English Wikipedia's community of editors, coordinated a service
blackout or posted links and images in protest against SOPA and PIPA.
Google said that it
collected more than 7 million signatures in favor of the blackout; about 160
million people saw Wikipedia's banner that day. Other protest actions were
organized, including petition drives, boycotts of companies that supported the
legislation, and a rally in New York City.
Opponents of the bill have proposed the Online Protection
and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (OPEN) as an alternative. On January 20 th
, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Smith, the Texas Congressman, postponed
plans to draft the bill. Clearly frustrated, he said, The committee
remains committed to finding a solution to the problem of online piracy that
protects American intellectual property and innovation. The House Judiciary
Committee will therefore postpone consideration of the legislation until there
is wider agreement on a solution.
In the wake of online protests held January 18 th , Senate
Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that a vote on the bill would be
postponed. Reid cited billions of dollars in piracy costs to the
American economy each year and concluded that there's no reason the
legitimate issues raised by many about this bill cannot be resolved.
Meanwhile, the SOPA and PIPA bills have been shelved. They
may come back with a face-lift.
John Williams coined the term "assistive technology."
His website is: www.atechnews.com .