Republicans and Democrats join together to pursue a more balanced legislation toward piracy.
by Brian Leubitz
They say that even broken clocks are right twice a day, and perhaps that is what this is about. However, Rep. Issa managed to hit upon a topic that is near and dear to my heart to be on the right side of the issue. Who knows, maybe there is something pecuniary in it for him, but I’ll just go with the fact that he is right on the issue and move along.
So, what exactly is Rep. Issa, a target for much scorn around here, being a solid leader for? Well, that would be the legislative question surrounding copyright and the Internet. Specifically, a Senate bill called the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) and its House counterpart, the PROTECT IP Act. Here’s a quick summary about the Internet Blacklist legislation from the Electronic Frontier Foundation:
The “Stop Online Piracy Act”/”E-PARASITE Act” (SOPA) and “The PROTECT IP Act” (PIPA) are the latest in a series of bills which would create a procedure for creating (and censoring) a blacklist of websites. These bills are updated versions of the “Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act” (COICA), which was previously blocked in the Senate. Although the bills are ostensibly aimed at reaching foreign websites dedicated to providing illegal content, their provisions would allow for removal of enormous amounts of non-infringing content including political and other speech from the Web.
The various bills define different techniques for blocking “blacklisted” sites. Each would interfere with the Internet’s domain name system (DNS), which translates names like “www.eff.org” or “www.nytimes.com” into the IP addresses that computers use to communicate. SOPA would also allow rightsholders to force payment processors to cut off payments and advertising networks to cut ties with a site simply by sending a notice.
In the end, these bills could mean that America will have, much like China, a different internet than the rest of the world. Each of these two bills would endanger sites like DropBox or Box.net and even artist sites like Etsy. Innovating new companies are likely to meet massive resistance from the oligopolies that run the copyright industries, and there is very little due process. Domain names can simply be turned off at the drop of a hat, and you have to find a way to talk to somebody to get the site turned back on after the fact.
In other words, these two bills are an unworkable solution. So, Rep. Issa and Sen. Wyden worked together to find a concept that would protect innovation while still working to protect rights holders and have released a concept bill called OPEN. The bill might not be perfect, but it is a pretty good start. Basically, the International Trade Commission would serve as a clearinghouse to review claims under OPEN. Under SOPA, well, that would be banks and ISPs, large corporations that are entirely unaccountable to the people.
However, rather than dealing with OPEN honestly, the backers of SOPA resort to saying that OPEN “goes easy” on piracy. In response, Issa and Wyden launched KeepTheWebOPEN.com to solicit comments from the public, and in fact even invited the MPAA to mark up the bill.
“I’ve heard MPAA’s response to the #OPEN Act. I believe American artists and innovators – not to mention you, the digital citizen – deserve better than soundbites,” Issa said after the movie industry lobbying group argued the bill “goes easy on Internet piracy.” (The Hill)
DNS is too important to the Internet to monkey with, and the Internet is too important to our economy to rush into something before we know the consequences of those actions. We have a lot of legislation on online piracy already on the books, much of which was placed there in a pretty one-sided process. This time, let’s be sure to bring in all stakeholders in the issue to get a piece of balanced legislation that doesn’t “break the internet.”