Stop Online Piracy Act Raises Concerns Over Legal Censorship in US

Nate Anderson on Ars Technica recently published a piece explaining the dangers of the House of Representatives' newly proposed bill to protect intellectual property on the Internet. According to the plan itself, the bill would implement a “market-based system to protect US customers and prevent US funding of sites dedicated to theft of US property." Already, the blogosphere is showing signs of discontent. Matt Masnick wrote on TechDirt yesterday, "Now I understand why Rep. Zoe Lofgren's first reaction to this bill was to say that 'this would mean the end of the Internet as we know it.'"

Specifics of the bill resemble that of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. If approved, the act would allow copyright owners to demand content removal on sites such as YouTube. But the E-PARASITES Act (an alternate name for the bill) goes one step further and would force ad networks and payment processors such as Paypal to suspend service to the website being accused of infringement. Not only that, the bill would force ISPs to abide by US Attorney General blacklists of international websites deemed to be infringing copyright and take them down. If ISPs don't comply, according to James Allworth on the Harvard Business Review blog, they lose all safe harbor provisions currently provided by the DMCA. This added weight to copyright law also includes a five-year prison sentence for the defendant if found guilty.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation called the bill one of the worst pieces of legislation they've seen in the past decade and highlighted the dangers of taking down entire domains in the name of intellectual property protection, an action the bill permits. In a recent blog post, Corinne McSherry wrote: "Of course blacklisting entire domains can mean turning off thousands of underlying websites that may have done nothing wrong." Tech firms have also voiced opposition to the bill. Markham Erickson, who directs NetCoalition, an organization that brings together Google, Yahoo, and other leading tech companies, said of the bill:

As leading brands of the Internet, we strongly oppose offshore 'rogue' websites and share policymakers' goal of combating online infringement of copyrights and trademarks. However, we do not believe that the solution lies in regulating the Internet and comprising its stability and security.

Not all are upset about this news. Overall, the music industry has voiced its support for the bill, seen as a potential booster for the music market. In a statement from the Record Academy, CEO Neil Portnow commented: "Music creators see introduction of the Stop Online Piracy Act as welcome news. At a time of high unemployment and slow economic growth, the IP sector should be a driving force for economic recovery."

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