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Battle Over "Internet Censorship" Bills Heats Up

December 12, 2011

ST. PAUL, Minn. - 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 bill, expected to come to a House vote before the end of the year, is seen by Josh Levy, Internet campaign director for the media reform group Free Press, as an overreaction to copyright infringement which places unnecessary burdens on web sites such as Etsy and YouTube to determine whether they're hosting unauthorized content.

"It would give people who run Internet web sites very little time to respond to accusations before their web sites are actually 'disappeared' from the Internet."

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.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., 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."

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, Levy says, 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."

SOPA and PIPA, says Levy, represent very real threats to an unfettered, open Internet that is vital to commerce and democracy.

"Copyright infringement is a problem - and I think everybody - most people - agree that that's true. But that doesn't mean that we need to burn down the store in order to catch the thief."

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.

    John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN