SINKING DIGITAL PIRACY? The Obama White House has called for a back-to-the-drawing-board approach to clamping down on Internet intellectual-property piracy while preserving free speech. Image: Image courtesy of PashaIgnatov, via iStockphoto.com
Rather than deliver an ultimatum to those on either side of the debate, the recent White House statement related to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act of 2011 (PIPA) encourages the entertainment and technology industries to work together to find a solution. This call for a back-to-the-drawing-board approach to clamping down on Internet intellectual-property piracy while preserving free speech has many wondering whether lawmakers will simply rework SOPA (pdf) and PIPA (pdf) using different language or if they will take anti-SOPA and anti-PIPA concerns to heart.
The Obama administration is not backing down when it comes to shutting down foreign sites that distribute content illegally. However, the administration's position—articulated by Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra and Cyber Security Coordinator Howard Schmidt—also makes it clear that any proposed laws "must not tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet through manipulation of the domain name system (DNS), a foundation of Internet security." In addition, new legislation must target specific lawbreakers rather than broadly punishing Internet intermediaries such as online advertising networks, payment processors and search engines.
Under SOPA (introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith, R–Tex., in October) and PIPA (by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D–Vt., last May), Congress sought to prevent Internet users from accessing foreign sites with pirated content by having service providers block those sites' domain names. The proposed legislation also threatened to punish any search engine providers, payment network providers and Internet advertising services that continued to support those infringing sites.
SOPA and PIPA's primary supporters are organizations—the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and Rupert Murdoch–owned News Corp. among them—that invest heavily in creating movies, television programs and other content that makes its way to the Internet. The legislation's most vocal opponents have included Craigslist, Google, Twitter, Yahoo and Wikipedia—Web-based entities that benefit from this content.
Wikipedia, news-aggregator Reddit and a number of other Web sites are planning to take the English-language version of their sites offline on Wednesday to protest the legislation, even though SOPA and PIPA are likely on their last legs. These sites' reasons for opposing SOPA and PIPA are clear—namely that they would lose access to free content if that content is found to published illegally on the Web. Less clear, however, is how such a blackout would further their goal of stopping such legislation or any related proposals that might follow.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R–Calif.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D–Ore.) have already proposed an alternate bill called the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (OPEN) (pdf), which would use international trade law to punish foreign Web sites that infringe U.S. copyrights. The MPAA opposes Issa's bill, saying that it would be "cumbersome" and vows to continue lobbying for SOPA and PIPA, The New York Times reports.