The issue of Internet copyright laws has been front-page news since the famous Napster lawsuits of the early 2000s. Since then, high-speed Internet connections have increased the ease with which copyrighted material can be traded online and sites that engage in file sharing have proliferated. This has made the situation even more complicated.
Introducing SOPA and PIPA
In may of 2011, the legal battle came to a head in the United States’ legislature. In the House of Representatives a bill was proposed, SOPA, or “Stop Online Piracy Act,” while in the Senate, its counterpart PIPA, or “Protect IP Act” was proposed. These bills were presented as solutions to the issue of rampant online piracy.
PIPA was sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), one of the longest serving senators in Congress. SOPA was sponsored by Representative Lamar S. Smith (R-TX). These bills had immediate support in both the House of Representatives and in the Senate, with twelve representatives co-sponsoring the bill, and more than 40 senators co-signing PIPA at one point. SOPA and PIPA also had the support of major media companies such as the AFL-CIO, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Motion Picture Association of America, the Director’s Guild of America and the Screen Actor’s guild. Public debate ensued and many media pundits weighed in on the matter.
These bills would allow greater authority for those trying to shut down piracy. Among other changes to existing copyright enforcement law, this meant that it would be feasible to shut down their entire website due to copyright infringement on one of their pages. Aggrieved parties would be able to file an injunction against an entire Internet site, effectively shutting it down. It could also punish websites found linking to such websites, which would include search engine results.
SOPA and PIPA were immediately controversial. Several congress people, including Scott Brown, Tom Coburn, Jim DeMint and Mark Warner made their opposition to the bills well-known. Internet privacy and Internet free speech advocates considered the bills a threat. Human Rights Watch, the American Library Association, the Association of College and Research Libraries, Reporters Without Borders and several other non-profits sent an open letter in which they stated that parts of the bills “Would be ineffective and runs contrary to the US government’s commitment to advancing a single, global Internet.”
In addition to the complaints and protests of these non-profit organizations, many companies that specialized in online services came out against the bills. An open letter from companies such as Facebook, Google, Mozilla, AOL and Twitter argued that the bill would do more harm than good. The letter states that the companies were “Very concerned that the bills the bills as written would seriously undermine the effective mechanism Congress enacted in the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) to provide safe harbor for Internet companies that act in good faith to remove infringing content from their sites.”
Other parties have voiced concern about the ability for the courts to determine rights to intellectual property in this digital age. The speed at which information moves across the social network is staggering, often making it difficult if not impossible for an organization to prove its rights to such intellectual property. These difficulties could open the door for nefarious litigation intended to hinder a competitor rather than to achieve justice for one’s own property. Whether the claims are accurate, the fact is that these Acts would result in staggering legal costs.
Perhaps the most visible protest was a one-day blackout of many popular, including Boing Boing and Wikipedia. The blackout lasted 24 hours during January 18th of 2012. Wikipedia, which registers several million hits a day, blocked access to their websites articles and instead displayed a dark screen and a short letter stating that “The U.S. Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet.” This particular blackout made both national and international headlines.
Two days after the blackout, on January 20, 2012, voting on the bills was postponed indefinitely. Although the bill has not been voted down, and may still be voted upon in the future, it has not currently been scheduled for a floor vote. Most opponents of the bill consider it off the table, although it is still possible that SOPA and PIPA will return in the future, if more support for the bill is garnered.
The firm of Price Benowitz, LLP believes that intellectual property and the associated legislation affects us all. While the firm focuses its legal efforts on personal injury litigation, its team of dedicated attorneys believes in the value of keeping abreast of all important legislation. The firm offers free consultations and a dedicated Maryland auto accident lawyer is just a click away.