Larry Downes’s “Five essential changes to Protect IP Act” post for CNET this week is mistitled. Rather than strengthen this crucial legislation, which enlists a wide range of players in the Internet ecosystem to help shut down foreign websites that traffic in stolen intellectual property, Mr. Downes’s proposals would gut it.
It’s disappointing that some in the tech community seem to be suggesting that the only way they will support legislation combating rogue sites is if that legislation doesn’t require the tech community to do anything. But that approach is both ineffective and irresponsible. What gives the PROTECT IP Act its force is the same thing that bothers its opponents: its recognition that when it comes to stopping content theft, we are all in this together, and we all need to work together for those efforts to succeed.
That means it’s not enough, as Downes suggests, to prevent rogue websites from accessing the U.S. financial infrastructure they use to profit from stolen content, such as payment processing and advertising networks. We also need to keep those sites – which are actively involved, every day, in the wholesale theft of American-made intellectual property – from using U.S.-based technological infrastructure to infiltrate the legitimate marketplace for content and consumer goods. Legislation that doesn’t get at both pieces of that puzzle, at least in some way, will be markedly less effective.
Downes claims new legislation on rogue sites isn’t necessary because “existing enforcement mechanisms, such as the ‘notice and takedown’ provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, have made great strides in controlling unlicensed distribution.” It’s true that the DMCA is a critically important and widely used tool, but it works only when the website hosting infringing content is willing to comply. Notorious rogue site The Pirate Bay proudly states that “0 torrents has been removed, and 0 torrents will ever be removed” [sic].
Trust us – if the people and organizations who create content and other intellectual property could stop all online theft alone, we’d have done it long ago. But we can’t. We need help. To this end, we’re pleased that it looks as though there will soon be a version of PROTECT IP introduced in the House. Kudos to Chairman Goodlatte for making clear that this bill will include “new legal tools” for both law enforcement and copyright-holders to protect their intellectual property against infringement.
The way we see it, if we protect the jobs, wages, public revenues, and other economic growth that results when we safeguard intellectual property, we all benefit.