Listen up, all you internet users (which is basically everybody but my mother, who still views the Internet as the work of the devil, and will quote from the book of Revelation in support of her theory). Three bills you need to be aware of, because they may change the way you view (or more correctly, the way you are allowed to view) the Internet. and from what I’m reading, there are some pretty darned big sites and companies that are ready to either “go dark” in protest (Wikipedia, for example, which is where I do most of my legal research) or lend a big supporting hand to the protests of the current bills being considered (Google is one – who can live a day without Googling something? I mean for cryin’ out loud the Company has made itself into a verb!!). Those bills are:
1. Stop Online Piracy Act (or “SOPA”).
2. Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (PROTECT IP or PIPA, which is easier but less descriptive. I’ve never seen a bill with a name so long it requires not one but two abbreviations).
3. The Online Protection & ENforcement of Digital Trade Act (or “OPEN” Act – again- what is it with thinking up names for these acts? But I guess “OPAENDTA” doesn’t quite roll off the toungue).
Sounds simple enough, right? I mean, who doesn’t want to stop people from stealing stuff and using the Internet to get away with it? Uh, hold on--not so fast there, scooter. Here’s a quick overview, along with the pretty darned serious problems that exist. The main thought is that there is a serious problem (which there really is) regarding piracy on the Internet. As paraphrased from the OPEN site (http://keepthewebopen.com) the problem can be illustrated like this: downloading a movie from a foreign website is like buying a foreign product, but there really aren’t any trade laws equipped to deal with the online purchases from foreign sites.
The SOPA bill allows the Department of Justice and copyright holders to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. The court order could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators from doing business with the allegedly infringing website, barring search engines from linking to such sites, and requiring Internet service providers to block access to such sites. The bill would make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content a crime, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison for ten such infringements within six months. The bill also gives immunity to Internet services that voluntarily take action against websites dedicated to infringement, while making liable for damages any copyright holder who knowingly misrepresents that a website is dedicated to infringement.
Proponents of SOPA say it protects the intellectual property market and corresponding industry, jobs and revenue, and is necessary to bolster enforcement of copyright laws, especially against foreign websites. Opponents say that it violates the First Amendment, is Internet censorship, and will threaten whistle-blowing and other free speech actions. A number of protest actions have been planned, including boycotts of companies that support the legislation, and major Internet companies “going dark” for a day (coinciding with hearing dates).
PIPA (or ‘PROTECT IP”, or whatever else you want to call it), appears to be SOPA’s twin, but in the Senate.
OPEN is, from what I can glean, a “bipartisan” bill written in response to the harsh criticism SOPA is receiving. (I always tend to squint my eyes when I see the word “bipartisan”).
Even the White House has entered the fray, with a post just a few days ago regarding the subject. Here’s a part of that post:
Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small.
And when the White House says “whoa”, you know there is likely a heckuva lot of pressure (political, economic, you name it) coming down against the proposed Act.
So who’s right? Well, everybody. Is there a lot of intellectual property piracy on the open internet seas? Absolutely. Does it need to be dealt with? No question. Do the SOPA and PIPA bills overreach and create more problems than they purport to solve? Yep. The bills do use the U.S. Court system to create a type of “internet police” as it pertains to copyrighted material. They also greatly increase the work flowing to litigators and litigation firms among other things, driving up (WAY up) the cost of doing business, which will most certainly hurt businesses generally and small businesses especially, because whether they are involved or not, others will be so involved, which will drive up the overall cost of products across the board as the increased cost is passed on to the consumer as much as possible. And how/why is it that the US Courts will be essentially graced with the responsibility of policing the Internet for the entire world?
Now that I’ve lit the fire and started the debate, feel free to discuss amongst yourselves (hey- it isn’t my job to give answers, just point out the questions).
Jeffrey Curran is Of Counsel with Gable Gotwals in Oklahoma City, OK