First Amendment Expert: Stop Online Piracy Act Upholds Free Speech

by Paul Hortenstine 11/10/2011 10:32 (UTC-08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada)

This week, noted First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams wrote that rogue sites legislation in the House will protect free speech.  This follows a letter Abrams wrote in May that affirmed that rogue sites legislation in the Senate upholds the First Amendment.  

The Stop Online Piracy Act (H.R.3261) in the House and the PROTECT IP Act (S.968) in the Senate would, if passed, target foreign rogue sites that knowingly and deliberately engage in the illegal distribution of stolen content, including movies and television shows, for profit.  The legislation will preserve the 2.2 million jobs of American workers who depend on the film and television industry.

On Monday, Abrams sent a letter to House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith and Ranking Member John Conyers reaffirming that the Stop Online Piracy Act in no way imperils the First Amendment.  He wrote,

“Any legislative efforts to limit what appears on the Internet, or to punish those who post materials on it, requires the closest scrutiny to assure that First Amendment rights are not being compromised. That is true of all limits on speech, and it is no less true of the Internet. But the Internet neither creates nor exists in a law-free zone, and copyright violations on the Internet are no more protected than they are elsewhere.

“The notion that adopting legislation to combat the theft of intellectual property on the Internet threatens freedom of expression and would facilitate, as one member of the House of Representatives recently put it,  ‘the end of the Internet as we know it,’ is thus insupportable. Copyright violations have never been protected by the First Amendment and have been routinely punished wherever they occur, including the Internet. This proposed legislation is not inconsistent with the First Amendment; it would protect creators of speech, as Congress has done since this Nation was founded, by combating its theft.”

Abrams wrote the letter on behalf of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), the Directors Guild of America (DGA), the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE), the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Motion Picture Association of America. 

Abrams also concluded that the PROTECT IP Act in the Senate upholds the principles of free speech.   In May, he wrote a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, Ranking Member Charles Grassley, and Senator Orrin Hatch that the PROTECT IP bill follows established free speech laws.

Categories: Content Protection, Copyright, Policy

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