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Sopa and Pipa; are they a goer?

Sopa and Pipa; are they a goer?

Published: 23.01.12 at 17:09

The US Congress has, for the time being, halted any further debate on two contested anti-online piracy Bills. Opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (Pipa) culminated in a protest by thousands of websites, most notably Wikipedia, taking their content offline for 24 hours.

The US Bills would grant content owners and the US government the power to request court orders to shut down sites associated with piracy. This would mean search engines such as Google would be required to remove foreign infringing sites from their results and internet service providers (ISPs) ensuring that the site can not be accessed by typing in its domain name.

The main aim of the Bills is to prevent US citizens from downloading copyright content from foreign sites. If a site is dedicated to enabling or facilitating acts of copyright infringement then the law should provide a means of redress for the rights holder. Even those that oppose the Bills do not dispute this. So what's all the fuss about?

Those contesting the Bills are typically ISPs, search engine providers and, it has to be said, those that don't want to be prevented from making illegal downloads. They argue that the Bills will bring about censorship of the internet and restrict freedom of expression. These arguments are flawed at best and at worst guilty of scaremongering. Any bone you may have to pick with anyone/anything can be aired on any legal forum and the right to freely express yourself is not absolute - it is not a means to circumvent intellectual property laws and to deal with other peoples' creativity as you please.

The debate is more likely to be driven by profit. Search engines earn vast sums from online advertising, with searches for illegal free music and films a major driver of traffic. Broadband providers charge users for the extra bandwidth they consume when downloading films, music etc for free. The internet advertising industry earns commission from the ads on pirate sites, and brands reach a potentially huge audience. On top of this, it is likely to be the search engine providers/ISPs that have to bear the brunt of the costs associated with blocking access to infringing sites.

Despite all this, the Bills should not necessarily be enacted in their current form. We currently have laws in place whereby rights holders can apply for court orders to block access to file sharing sites. Take the Newzbin case as an example. In that respect, Sopa and Pipa aren't creating anything new.

However, certain provisions could be seen as creating obligations on website owners that are far too onerous. For example, Sopa and Pipa as currently drafted would require website owners to actively monitor all the content that is uploaded to their sites. This would quite possibly be contrary to the law as it stands in the UK and the EU. A recent case decided that an order requiring an ISP to install a filtering system, monitoring all communications for an indefinite period was disproportionate.

The online blackout seems to have been successful in that Sopa and Pipa have been shelved for the time being. However, when the time comes for the Bills to be revisited it is important that each side is open to participating in meaningful discussions. The digital age that we live in may well necessitate additional powers to block infringing sites. However, any pending legislation must be well thought through, taking into consideration the concerns of all the interested parties. Only then will it be possible to strike an acceptable balance between the freedom of ISPs and the like to conduct their business and the protection of intellectual property rights.

See this story reported in the IPKat here.  

Photograph (some rights reserved) by kevy mckeverson

 

Please note that this article provides general information only but is not to be regarded as legal advice. You must take advice from a specialist lawyer in relation to your specific circumstances. Further, you should seek additional legal advice when dealing with parties based in other parts of the world or works originating from other parts of the world as the legal position may vary.

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