Two controversial bills aimed at curbing copyright infringement over the internet–the Stop Online Piracy Act (“SOPA”) H.R. 3261 and its sister legislation, the Protect IP Act (“PIPA”) United States Senate Bill S.968 –appear likely to win Congressional approval this year.
SOPA allows the Department of Justice and copyright holders to pursue companies hosting, linking to, and doing business with, the offending websites. The bill would grant the DOJ and copyright holders the ability to:
- prevent search engines from linking to the offending websites;
- require ISP’s to block access to the sites;
- prevent domain name registrars from resolving queries that direct traffic to those sites; and
- bar online entities, such as payment processors and online advertising networks, from doing business with the alleged infringers.
SOPA’s provisions would eviscerate the safe harbor rule enunciated in the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act. That safe harbor rule protects online service providers from copyright infringement liability if they conform to certain guidelines and block access to questionable material once they are notified of a claimed copyright infringement. Unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content would be a crime under the bill, punishable by up to five years in prison.
PIPA similarly provides for enforcement of copyright infringement laws against offending websites operated and registered overseas. The bill likewise grants the DOJ the ability to seek a court order against the offending websites. The court order can be served on financial transaction providers, online advertising networks, ISP’s, and search engines to require them to stop engaging in business with the offending website and stop linking to those sites.
Proponents assert that the bills protect intellectual property, a valuable resource of U.S. companies and individuals, especially those in the entertainment industry, particularly against foreign websites which are outside the reach of current U.S. laws. Not surprisingly, some of the most vocal supporters of the bill include the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Those opposed to the bills, including Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter and AOL, cite incursion upon First Amendment rights and internet censorship as the likely dangers of the bill’s enactment. In fact, some predict that the proposed bill would lead to many cloud computing and web hosting services leaving the U.S. to avoid lawsuits. Critics of the bills contend that the language is too broad and that the bill does not take into account the realities of internet technology. They also contend that the bills’ enactment would discourage new investment in digital media intermediaries, dealing another blow to an already ailing economy.
Both bills would no doubt enact sweeping changes to the current internet landscape.
How do you feel about the pending legislation? Are these bills really the best tools for protecting copyrights or is there a better way?