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Archive for December, 2011|Monthly archive page

Stop Piracy, or Innovation?

In Social Media, Technology Issues and the Law on December 2011 at 7:15 pm

On November 16, 2011 Congress began review of The Protect IP Act (PIPA) is a U.S. Senate bill introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy and its House counterpart Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Since their introduction in May 2011, the bills have been met with severe backlash, with opposers calling them “innovation killers” and “patently unjust.”  On the first day of hearings even Rep. Lamar Smith, a chief sponsor of the bill, expressed uncertainty over the bill’s scope.

The legislation has been opposed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Yahoo!, eBay, American Express, Google, Reporters Without Borders, and Human Rights Watch to name a few.  Media-sharing services such as Vimeo and Flickr, along with crowd favorite e-commerce communities such as Etsy could be the types of sites at risk under the Stop Online Piracy Act.  Fight for the Future published a 3-minute infographic video explaining the basics of the bills and their impact on everyday activities of online interactions.

The bills are designed to provide the government and copyright holders the power to block access to “rogue websites dedicated to infringing or counterfeit goods,” especially those registered outside the United States.  If passed, PIPA and SOPA would allow the government to prevent public access to websites with “no significant use” other than copyright infringement, or enabling such infringement.  It would also make unauthorized media streaming a felony and hold web publishers and hosting services responsible for curbing users from acts involving copyright-infringement.

All in all – it would make most everyday media usage a crime, hold people accountable even if they did not know it was going on, and it would focus energies away from real issues (such as lack of healthcare and a dying economy).  SOPA would also get rid of the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which grants Web sites immunity from prosecution as long as they act in good faith to take down infringing content upon notice.

Under the bill, the Justice Department would be allowed to obtain court orders demanding that American ISPs prevent users from visiting blacklisted websites. ISPs receiving such orders would have to alter records in the net’s system for looking up website names, known as DNS.  The House bill would also enable the Justice Department to order sites like Google to remove allegedly “rogue” sites from search results.  As with many other bills, the determination of what is “rogue” would be out of the hands of the general public, the companies hosting the content, and anyone with direct understanding of the content and its use.  It would give unprecedented censorship power to the US government.

The potential censorship issues were met with strong arguments that some measure of law is needed to police the piracy and counterfeiting problems rampant on the Internet.

“Doing nothing is not an option,” Rep. Mel Watt of North Carolina noted.  “Not only are online piracy and counterfeiting drains on our economy, they expose consumers to fraud, identity theft, confusion and to harm.”

His sentiments were echoed by John Clark, the security chief for Pfizer, who testified about counterfeit drug sales on the internet.  “I see counterfeited medicines as attempted murder,” said Clark.

Proponents of the bill also argue that if nothing is done, the US Copyright system will be rendered useless. However, it is unclear how the copyright system would fail when companies like iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, Grooveshark and Amazon are the mostly commonly used sources for legitimate music downloads.

The issues comes down to this:  how many rights are we willing to give up here?  Is it worth it? And does Congress understand the numerous options available on the Internet?  After all, computer savvy users will always find a workaround; but the people who would be held accountable would be minor offenders, and under this bill, even accidental offenders.

With strong arguments on both sides of the bills, the answer remains unclear.

– Sheheryar T. Sardar, Esq.Sardar Law Firm LLC*

For more information on contract law or digital media law, contact: Sardar Law Firm at sardar@sardarlawfirm.com.

First published in The BroadStreet Times

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