SOPA & PIPA pt. 3

Copyrighted rockThank you for contacting me regarding S. 968, the “Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011 (PROTECT IP),” and H.R. 3261, the “Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).”  It is good to hear from you.

S. 968 was introduced on May 12, 2011, and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.  On May 26, it was reported out of committee and placed on the general legislative calendar.  If enacted, S. 968 would amend federal copyright law to authorize the Attorney General to file civil action against violators of copyright infringement law.

H.R. 3261 was introduced on October 26, 2011, and referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary.  On December 16, it was considered before the full committee; however, the bill was not voted out for consideration by the full House.  If enacted, H.R. 3261 would authorize the Attorney General to seek a court order against a U.S.-directed foreign Internet site committing or facilitating online piracy.

On January 23, 2012, a procedural vote on S. 968 was scheduled in the Senate; however, Majority Leader Reid announced that this vote will be postponed in order to allow for modifications to the bill to be made.  Furthermore, House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith announced that further consideration of H.R. 3261 would be postponed indefinitely.

It was always clear that SOPA and PROTECT IP needed to be perfected, and that legitimate concerns needed to be addressed before these bills could move forward.  Given this and my constituents concerns, it was always my intention to oppose moving forward until concerns had been addressed.  With the majority leader’s decision to postpone the cloture vote on the PROTECT IP Act originally scheduled for January 24, I withdrew my co-sponsorship to await the resolution of the outstanding issues.

I believe that online theft is a serious issue, and that Congress needs to make certain that our laws adequately protect the interests of rights holders.  When $58 billion in economic output is lost to the U.S. economy annually due to copyright theft of movies, music, packaged software and video games, and about one-quarter of all internet traffic is copyright infringing, there is a real problem that needs to be addressed.  I have complete faith that we will be able to work out a compromise in the future that addresses this, while still promoting free and open access to the internet. Should a bill addressing this topic come before the full Senate for consideration, I will keep your thoughts in mind.

I was surprised but not upset that Mr. Chambliss’ office didn’t answer me first. He was the only lawmaker to respond to the auto-letter I sent via the One campaign during the Live 8 concerts. I am not going to send a response to this letter because it was written to current news (explaining that the bills in question have left the floor) and I’m sure everyone reading this appreciates that he dislikes parts of the bill that are inappropriate.

Though the issue is far from resolved, it seems that this chapter of it is about to blow over, so instead I would like to put my position on the subject into clear writing.

My problem with the ideas in the SOPA and PIPA bills has little to do with censorship or piracy. While I understand how abuse of such a law can easily lead to censorship, it is clear in the language of the bills that censorship is not its intended use. The problem is the power that the bill asserts and infers.

Because the Internet is an international construction, I insist that it should be governed in whole by an international body. It should not be lawless, but I prefer that the treaty be redrafted and ratified to explain that no single country should be able to determine how it is used. I would even suggest that the Internet have its own laws as if it is sovereign, so that it can be exempt from any country’s law. That way, a user in one country has the same expectations as a user in another, with regards to how registration works, what is acceptable use, and so on.

I also think that copyright and patent law as a whole should be reformed and the terms of both greatly shortened. I don’t see a purpose in having a copyright last two whole lifetimes; why should a person be able to stop being a productive member of society on the strength of a single idea? As above, the Internet should have its own versions of copyright and patent law to minimize confusion and keep the rules uniform in all participating countries.

I’m sure that both of my letters from senators are copied to anyone that wrote their offices during the “blackout” time period, that is part of the reason why I am sharing them here, but the responses are thoughtful and appreciated.

The next chapter in this ordeal is not getting enough attention, so I suggest watching over the MegaUpload shutdown case carefully. I am interested to see what sort of proof is presented, because in order to have a case, the DOJ must present indisputable evidence that MegaUpload was deliberately created to promote piracy.

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