The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing today on the "Stop Internet Piracy Act" (aka SOPA). In typical Republican fashion, it was not broadcast on CSPAN and many interested parties were excluded from the proceedings. In fact, the only technology company allowed to testify was Google, who opposes the proposed law along with a coalition of companies which includes Facebook, eBay and Zynga, along with others.
If ever there were a law designed to fatten the pockets of intellectual property attorneys, it is this proposed law. It has the potential to change the Internet, and not for the better. Written by and for large media companies like Comcast, it places full responsibility for intellectual property piracy on the shoulders of site owners rather than users.
As currently written, any website that quoted another site's content, or linked to a site that quoted another site's content could be declared a rogue site by the content owner, whether or not that content is subject to fair use rules. Once declared "rogue", companies like Paypal and Visa could then cut off payments immediately without the benefit of a hearing or due process of law. Fair use? Free speech? Forget about it. Here is the official summary from the House Judiciary Committee site.
This bill focuses not on technology but on preventing those who engage in criminal behavior from reaching directly into the U.S. market to harm American consumers.
We cannot continue a system that allows criminals to disregard our laws and import counterfeit and pirated goods across our physical borders.
Nor can we fail to take effective and meaningful action when criminals misuse the Internet.
The problem of rogue websites is real, immediate and wide-spread. It harms all sectors of the economy.
And its scope is staggering. One recent survey found that nearly one quarter of global Internet traffic infringes on copyrights.
A second study found that 43 sites classified as ‘digital piracy’ generated 53 billion visits per year and that 26 sites selling just counterfeit prescription drugs generated 51 million hits annually.
Since the United States produces the most intellectual property, our country has the most to lose if we fail to address the problem of these rogue websites.
Responsible companies and public officials have taken note of the corrosive and damaging effects of rogue sites.
That last line is dripping with finger-pointing, as the announcement goes on to extol the virtuous Mastercard company while excoriating Google. Mastercard, of course, supports this wholeheartedly, while Google opposes it, along with Facebook and other websites. The Electronic Frontier Foundation points out that sites like Vimeo, Flickr and Etsy would likely die as a result of this legislation.
Rebecca MacKinnon, former CNN reporter and senior fellow at the New America Foundation, had this to say: