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Friday, January 20, 2012

Victory! Now What? Next steps for SOPA and PIPA

Due, in large part, to the wide-spread protests and blackouts that happened on Wednesday, the Senate has delayed a vote on the Protect Intellectual Property Act so that the bill can be fixed. The delay is a good thing, it's a sign that the thousands of websites and millions of signatures on the petition (4.5 million at last count), have had an effect on Congress. Great job, the Internet! Way to take a stand for your rights.

Now what?

Piracy is still a concern for Congress, especially due to the pressures of the music and movie lobbyists. Both bills still exist, they've just had the votes delayed. Without a viable alternative that meaningfully addresses the issues of foreign piracy of US intellectual property, something like SOPA and PIPA will rise again (or the very same bills with altered content).

The key concerns are that offshore companies can pirate US property with impunity since our copyright laws don't apply and our law enforcement has no jurisdiction. The proposed solution of SOPA and PIPA was to remove the sites from search engines and lists of websites (called Domain Name Servers, or DNS) in the US. But the real kicker is that there was no due process, no threshold and no mercy. Any site that infringed in any way that a company could complain about could be de-listed.

I would like to see added to PIPA and SOPA the qualification that the site in question must exist for the sole, or primary purpose of violating copyright law and/or be primarily used for that purpose. The recent shutdown of the US-based Megaupload speaks to the proper way to identify a site that is primarily used for piracy. Sure they are a file sharing site (not illegal), but their business practices involved encouraging pirates with bribes and driving traffic to downloads with pirated content for the purpose of generating more ad revenue. There is a clear case of a site being used, primarily, for piracy of copyrighted material. The case was established by the Department of Justice and all of the paperwork has been filed (all 72 pages of it).

But how does this address foreign sites? Well the US is a member of an international treaty called the Berne Convention (and the World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty which caused us to create the Digital Millennium Copyright Act) which is designed to protect copyrighted works, as of 2008 there were 164 member countries. So, we have the channels in place to identify sites that are primarily for the use of pirating material and to gain the aid of other countries in shutting down sites that are violating copyright law.

I'm not directly opposed to the means by which SOPA and PIPA propose to block pirate sites, my main opposition is to the lack of due process and participation in the international community that already exists to address these issues. Within the DMCA, is a "Safe Harbor" clause which allows for websites and ISPs to take down infringing content and avoid liability. Don't punish the sites, punish the infringers.

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