The Stop Online Piracy Act

Issues: Internet Issues

Our modern communications network is a great engine of innovation and an essential platform for free speech worldwide.  Yet, the Internet harbors bad actors who infringe upon U.S. copyrights. Often located offshore, these operators target American consumers and facilitate transactions using the services of search engines, advertising networks, and credit card companies.  While reasonable protections are in place for taking down rogue websites or content hosted within the United States, it is less clear how to best regulate this type of activity when it originates offshore. 

Among the various pieces of legislation targeting this type of illegal activity, H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), has generated the most intense debate, with active advocacy groups on both sides of the bill.  SOPA would allow the Attorney General to seek injunctions against foreign websites that steal and sell American innovations and products. The bill increases criminal penalties for individuals who traffic in counterfeit medicine and military goods and increases coordination between IP enforcement agencies in the United States. 

Proponents of SOPA believe that the bill protects American jobs and American intellectual property – in this case, content that illegally appears on the internet.  To these parties, online content theft means declining incomes, reduced health and retirement benefits, and lost jobs.

Opponents of the bill support SOPA’s stated goal of providing additional enforcement tools to combat foreign rogue websites that are dedicated to copyright infringement and counterfeiting, but do not support the bill as written, believing that it would expose law-abiding U.S. Internet and technology companies to new uncertain liabilities, private rights of action, and technology mandates that could require monitoring of web sites and social media. These groups, which include Google, Facebook, AOL, Twitter and Yahoo, are concerned that the bill sets a precedent in favor of Internet censorship and could jeopardize our nation’s cybersecurity.

I agree that while the bill may be well intentioned, we need to do more to ensure that this legislation does not expose companies to new liabilities or infringe upon Americans’ First Amendment rights, or threaten the vitality of the Internet. 

I oppose SOPA as currently written.  Representatives and Senators from both parties share my concerns, and recently the White House expressed similar reservations.  We should not permit the infringement of American intellectual property rights.  But we should make sure that when we block the bad guys, we aren't compromising the rights of Americans to access information lawfully or exercise their sacred First Amendment rights.

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