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Battle Over "Internet Censorship" Bills Heats Up

December 12, 2011

DENVER - Is it simply a way to crack down on the pirating of music and movies, or a measure that could lead to online censorship and the end of Internet freedom? SOPA - the Stop Online Piracy Act - and a similar measure in the Senate are raising red flags.

The House bill, expected to come to a vote before the end of the year, is seen by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., as an overreaction to copyright infringement that places unnecessary burdens on web sites such as Etsy and YouTube to determine if they're hosting unauthorized content. Wyden opposes the Senate version as well.

"What these bills do is essentially use a bunker-busting bomb in the name of trying to deal with copyright infringement when they ought to go in with a laser beam."

Joined with movie studios and music companies in support of SOPA are the pharmaceutical industry and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Google, Yahoo! and Twitter are among companies opposing the measure, which they say threatens Internet innovation and job creation.

Wyden has introduced alternative legislation which would leave enforcement to the International Trade Commission; he says it narrows the potential harm of shutting down web sites without due process.

"I'm not going to support anything that does so much damage to innovation and the ability of the 'Net to be there, available to everyone and not just the moneyed interests who have so much clout already in American government."

Josh Levy, Internet campaign director for the media reform group Free Press, says at the core of the dispute over SOPA and its Senate version known as PIPA - the Protect Internet Privacy Act - is a clash between First Amendment rights and property rights, with wealthy interests backing the latter.

"Hollywood, the recording industry, legacy businesses and organizations that are focused on protecting content creators and the interests of the wealthy."

Wyden threatens to filibuster if PIPA and SOPA get enough votes for passage. He says he will stall by reading the names of everyone signing a petition being circulated against the measures.

The Chamber of Commerce estimates that U.S. companies lose $135 billion a year to counterfeiting and piracy.

Texts of the proposed legislation are online:

  • SOPA: H.R.3261.

  • PIPA: S.968.

  • Wyden's bill.

    Kathleen Ryan, Public News Service - CO
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