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Columbia Law Professor: SOPA Not Censorship
Author:  TJ Ducklo
Date:  11/24/2011

Since its introduction a few weeks ago, SOPA opponents have flooded the blogosphere with mischaracterized and often incorrect depictions of what the bill will actually do if passed. The most common piece of misguided rhetoric and the rallying cry for many opponents is the culturally resonant label: censorship. But as New York Lawyer and Columbia University Law Professor Hillel I. Parness points out yesterday, the Stop Online Piracy Act does not provide the government the pretense or the tools to “censor” any website based on a content evaluation alone, as reported by ReadWrite Enterprise.

Parness describes SOPA as “clarifying the Copyright Act” and says the nature of the bill is nothing different than other pieces of legislation that have regulated internet usage in the past:

“I don't view the approach here as anything that is groundbreaking in the macro sense. We have seen statutes, we have gotten used to statutes addressing the Internet, and the uniqueness of the Internet, that allow for various remedies, such as notice and takedown under the DMCA, which was new when it was implemented.”

He continued, “Therefore, if there was a risk of abuse, that risk has always been there. And I have confidence in the structure of our court system, that the prosecutors and the courts are held to certain standards that should not allow a statute such as this to be manipulated in that way."

Parness also explains that any site targeted by the bill must meet existing U.S. classifications for criminal conduct. The key word there is criminal. Legislation that targets rogue websites, such as SOPA or its Senate companion the PROTECT IP Act, is intended to halt illegal behavior that takes money out of the pockets of Americans. The film and television industry supports 2.2 million jobs across the country and Chairman Smith with his 24 co-sponsors in the House, as well as Chairman Leahy and his 39 co-sponsors in the Senate aim to protect those jobs.

But these bills do not just protect job in television and film. They also protect consumers against counterfeit drugs sold on foreign rogue sites, a problem outlined by Pzifer Executive John Clark at the recent House Judiciary Hearing, and protect all Americans from phony equipment used by first responders, which is why the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Fire Fighters have both endorsed the legislation.

Foreign-based rogue websites are a problem that isn’t going away, and on this Thanksgiving as we all reflect on what we have to be thankful for, we should give thanks we live in a country that protects us against real censorship and that won’t stand for online criminals using the internet to facilitate their crime.