Thursday, March 22, 2012
What’s Up with SOPA and PIPA?
Photo Titled "SOPA Resistance Day" by C4Chaos on Flickr
Everyone knows that the famous Internet encyclopedia website, Wikipedia, went offline for 24 hours on Wednesday, January 18 to protest something. However, what exactly the site was protesting, is a little less clear. Here’s the breakdown: there are two bills going through Congress. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is in the Senate and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) is in the House. The laws would make it legal for the Justice Department and copyright holders to seek court orders against a website suspected of copyright infringement. If the court order is granted, the website must be taken down. Most notably, the language of the legislation does not require the court to hear a defense argument before issuing the court order.
There is also a provision in the bill that allows for a copyright owner to take action outside of court against a suspected copyright infringer. The owner can invoke a “private right of action,” which allows the owner to demand that the suspected infringer’s payment processers cease payment to the infringer. If a suspected infringer would like to defend against a holder’s actions, the infringer is limited to court action.
The bill raises due process concerns for the suspected copyright infringer with regard to the private action provision. As the bill stands, it allows for private ordering in an unjust manner. Suppose a website runs an image that is not copyrighted but a copyright holder incorrectly believes it to be his image. The copyright owner could invoke a private right of action and stop payments to the site. The suspected infringer would have to take court action to lift the payment holds.
What would happen if a copyright image was posted to Facebook by one of its millions of users? Would Facebook be shut down for failure to monitor, in real time, each of its users?
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales compared the bill to a form of censorship. He reasoned, “The other side will try to paint this as anybody who’s opposed to this must be making money off of piracy or be in favor of piracy. That isn’t true. The issue here is that this law is very badly written, very broadly overreaching and, in at least the Senate version, would include the creation of a DNS (domain name system) blocking regime that's technically identical to the one that’s used by China.”
Many politicians have voiced opposition to the bills by Twitter, perhaps calling attention to one of the social media websites that would be hit hard by the bills. Some of these law makers include Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) (“Have you seen my stance on #SOPA and #PIPA? I’m going to vote no, the Internet is too important to our economy.”), Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) (“I support intellectual property rights, but I oppose SOPA & PIPA. They’re misguided bills that will cause more harm than good.”), Senator John Boozman (R-AK) (I am withdrawing my support for the Protect IP Act.”), and Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME) (“So many contacting me today outraged with #SOPA and I couldn’t agree more.).
Although copyright infringement remains a concern for holders and those who see value in the protection as a means for encouraging creativity, SOPA and PIPA do not seem to be the answer. The problem calls for a solution with greater ingenuity that provides protection without legalizing censorship.
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