Barrage Of Doubts Voiced On US Internet Piracy BillPublished on 16 November 2011 @ 6:10 am
By William New, Intellectual Property Watch
An international outcry from open internet proponents has emerged over draft US legislation, HR 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), on the eve of a hearing on the bill. International critics say the bill would put the United States on the same ground as China with regards to internet filtering, undermining the US argument for internet freedom.
[Late update:] A coalition of major technology and social media companies from Silicon Valley, such as Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Mozilla, LinkedIn, AOL and eBay, raised concerns about the bill on 16 November. Details are in this Google blog.
“While this is a domestic bill, there are several provisions within SOPA that would have serious implications for international civil and human rights which raise concerns about how the United States is approaching global internet governance,” a far-reaching coalition of more than 40 international groups said in a letter to the responsible US House of Representatives chairmen. “We urge the United States to uphold its proclaimed responsibility as a leader in internet freedom and reject bills that will censor or fragment the web.”
The Obama administration, by contrast, issued a statement of administrative policy this week in opposition to another bill, in which it said, “Today more than ever, the open Internet is essential to job creation, economic growth, and global competitiveness.”
The SOPA hearing is on 16 November, with a balanced witness list from the copyright and patent industries, technology industry, labour and others. The hearing notice and witness list is here.
“Through SOPA, the United States is attempting to dominate a shared global resource,” the international letter continued. “Building a nationwide firewall and creating barriers for international website and service operators makes a powerful statement that the United States is not interested in participating in a global information infrastructure. Instead, the United States would be creating the very barriers that restrict the free flow of information that it has vigorously challenged abroad.”
“In China, DNS [domain name system] filtering contributes to the Great Firewall that prevents citizens from accessing websites or services that have been censored by the Chinese government,” they said, “By instituting this practice in the United States, SOPA sends an unequivocal message to other nations that it is acceptable to censor speech on the global Internet.”
These concerns and others such as the threat to freedom of expression online were voiced in a letter sent by the New America Foundation and signed by a wide coalition of US groups. The New America letter is here.
They also were echoed by the Center for Democracy and Technology, here.
Eleven bipartisan members of Congress sent a letter in opposition, available here.
[Update:] A petition is also being circulated against the bill, which is also called the “E-PARASITE” Act (Enforcing and Protecting American Rights Against Sites Intent on Theft and Exploitation). The petition, here, appears to have nearly 20,000 signatures.
Another counter-initiative is calling 16 November American Censorship Day, and has a sign-on, here.
Three US law professors also sent a letter available here [pdf]. Their letter raised “constitutional and policy problems previously endorsed by over 100 law professors” with respect to a related bill known as Protect-IP. According to the law professors, SOPA would:
- “Redefine the standard for copyright infringement on the Internet, changing the definition of inducement in a way that would not only conflict with Supreme Court precedent but would make YouTube, Google, and numerous other web sites liable for copyright infringement.
- “Allow the government to block Internet access to any web site that “facilitated” copyright or trademark infringement – a term that the Department of Justice currently interprets to require nothing more than having a link on a web page to another site that turns out to be infringing.
- “Allow any private copyright or trademark owner to interfere with the ability of web sites to host advertising or charge purchases to credit cards, putting enormous obstacles in the path of electronic commerce.
- “Most significantly, it would do all of the above while violating our core tenets of due process. By failing to guarantee the challenged web sites notice or an opportunity to be heard in court before their sites are shut down, SOPA represents the most ill-advised and destructive intellectual property legislation in recent memory.”
The American Assembly at Columbia University in New York conducted a survey of Americans and found that they favour copyright protection, but not overly severe measures and punishment for violations. Their study is available here [pdf].
William New may be reached at email@example.com.