November 1, 2011
House Bill Would Place Broad IP Enforcement Powers In Hands Of Rightsholders
I usually appreciate the work of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, though I sometimes roll my eyes at the hyperbole in some of those positions. Biases aside, the EFF report on the Stop Online Piracy Act (H.R. 3621) is pretty right-on in both the description of the provisions it would impose on the Internet and the impact it would have on all of us. The bill would allow rights holders to send DMCA-style takedown notices of alleged copyright infringement to MasterCard and Visa type payment services and ad networks which would have five days to remove their services from the site. Safe harbors are not an option or defense in this scheme.
The bill’s language allows for results that essentially bypasses the courts and other provisions of the intellectual property laws. There are other provisions which allow the Attorney General to have offending sites removed from search engines and DNS look-up tables, all down a memory hole, if you will.
There are a number of other analyses worth reviewing. One is by Larry Downes (CNET) called SOPA: Hollywood's latest effort to turn back time. Another is U.S. government also a villain in piracy act, a story by Molly Wood (also CNET). I first came across Wood’s article and wondered if her description of the bill was a bit overwrought in how it could affect the free flow of information on the web. After reading it, her reaction was just right.
The bill is a media dream piece of legislation, placing copyright holders in complete control of the enforcement process. I’m sure Viacom would have been delighted to have this in place when suing Google and YouTube for allegations of piracy. I’m also sure that Cambridge, et al. would have would have found it useful in their so-far unsuccessful case to characterize as infringement the placing of copyrighted works in some circumstances on electronic reserve at Georgia State University. I’m also sure the Author’s Guild would receive the result that they seek in their case against the HathiTrust. To paraphrase Barry Manilow, I write the rules, I write the rules, I am power. Copyright piracy via the web may be a problem, but this bill goes way beyond what a proper response should be.
The bland description of the legislation by the House Judiciary Committee is here. Don’t be fooled. [MG]