Targeting Internet Piracy Will Preserve American Jobs, Encourage Innovation and Uphold Free Speech

by Michael O'Leary 11/28/2011 14:46 (UTC-08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada)

Online piracy is a major threat to our economy, consumer safety, and our national security.  Currently, many foreign websites that profit from counterfeit goods and stolen content are beyond the reach of U.S. law.  So, how do we target these dangerous foreign websites while upholding free speech, promoting innovation, encouraging commerce and preserving American jobs? 

The Stop Online Piracy Act (H.R.3261) in the House and the PROTECT IP Act (S.968) in the Senate provide measured, needed tools to go after these websites that are beyond the reach of our current laws and preserve millions of American jobs.  Everyone engaged in legal commerce on the Internet should welcome new tools to go after websites that illegally profit from American innovation and creativity.  While we can never stop online piracy, this legislation is a step in the right direction. 

Yesterday, the New York Times published an editorial on this legislation.   It rightly stated that piracy is “the bane of the Internet.”  However, it failed to mention the importance of copyright laws in creating the Internet of today and the jobs that are at stake if we don’t target online piracy.  Unfortunately, it also misrepresented many important parts of the Stop Online Piracy Act. 

Copyright protection laws have helped create the Internet of today, alive with free speech, innovation and commerce.  Foreign rogue websites that profit from stolen content and counterfeit goods are a danger to consumers and a drag on our economy.  Copyright laws in the U.S. uphold free speech while encouraging innovation by giving an economic incentive for artists and investors to create new content and distribute it on the Internet.   

The editorial rightly stated that piracy saps our economy but failed to give the full picture of the millions of American jobs at stake.  The editorial said, “Piracy’s cost is measured in less innovation and less economic activity, as creators lose hope of making a living from their creations.”  The creators of new content are not the only ones who depend on copyrighted material for their livelihoods. More than 10.6 million Americans depend on the copyright industries for their jobs.  That’s about 1 in 10 private sector jobs in the U.S.  And about 2.2 million Americans depend on the film and television industries for their jobs.  Many of these Americans work behind the scenes in good paying middle class jobs.  

The protection of free speech on the Internet by U.S. law and the signal it sends to other countries, especially China, is very important.  The New York Times editorial stated that we should think about the signal we send to China.  There is no doubt about this.  Our copyright laws already send a strong signal to China and the Stop Online Piracy Act and the PROTECT IP Act uphold the tradition of protecting intellectual property while promoting free speech.  

Celebrated First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams has written that the Stop Online Piracy Act upholds free speech.  In a recent letter, he wrote, “The notion that adopting legislation to combat the theft of intellectual property on the Internet threatens freedom of expression” is “insupportable.”  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also written that “The State Department is strongly committed to advancing both Internet freedom and the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights on the Internet.  Indeed, these two priorities are consistent.” 

Preserving safe harbors for websites that remove copyrighted material is important to enable innovation and commerce.   The editorial raised concerns that the legislation will undermine the safe harbors for domestic websites under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  This missed a key distinction: Those safe harbor protections protect legitimate websites, not websites that are dedicated to theft and have no intention of complying with U.S. law.  The Stop Online Piracy Act upholds and has no impact on these safe harbors because it is directed at websites that are dedicated to the theft of copyrighted works and the sale of counterfeit goods – sites that are ineligible for the DMCA’s safe harbors to begin with.  Websites that are engaged in legal commerce will continue to have safe harbor protections.  Opponents of the Stop Online Piracy Act should be careful about this distinction or it would appear that they are arguing that blatantly infringing websites that have no intention of complying with U.S. law should enjoy safe harbor protections.

The Stop Online Piracy Act follows established due process standards and targets websites that are dedicated to counterfeiting and piracy.   The site blocking techniques provided for in the Stop Online Piracy Act are not new.  They are currently used to combat all kinds of harmful behavior including spam, phishing, malware, viruses, and other forms of Internet crime, all without claims of Internet censorship or harm to the Internet.  In fact, some of the same experts cited by the New York Times developed these techniques for use in fighting those kinds of Internet wrongs.  They apparently believe copyright infringement is not a problem that merits the same kind of enforcement efforts.   

Combating piracy is important for the future of free speech, innovation, and commerce on the Internet.  We should work together to create legislation that targets piracy that is currently out of the reach of our laws.  Congress and the courts have crafted reasonable, measured techniques to protect copyrights while preserving free speech.  The Stop Online Piracy Act and the PROTECT IP Act continue in this tradition and help ensure that the Internet will continue to be free and open while preserving millions of American jobs.

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