Sen. Kerry on Internet piracy

Last month I praised Sen. Scott Brown for his quick response to those of us who signed an online petition opposing draconian anti-piracy bills being considered by Congress. On Monday, I heard from Sen. John Kerry as well. Here’s what he wrote:

Dear Dan:

Thank you for your letter regarding the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (PROTECT IP Act). I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.

I have long championed the cause of innovation and an open Internet. Firms operating on and off the Internet strongly rely on intellectual property laws to help protect their investments and ensure a just return for their goods and services. Online piracy and copyright infringement hurts our economy and costs American businesses more than 200 billion dollars a year. Many infringers operate from foreign countries in order to avoid US law enforcement. As a result, under current law, American authorities are limited in what they can do to bring these rogue sites to justice.

As you know, the PROTECT IP Act was intended to protect American businesses from intellectual property theft on foreign websites. Among other things, the bill would provide the Attorney General with the authority to seek a court injunction against a foreign website that engages in copyright infringement. The court could also require U.S. websites to block access to websites found to be dedicated to infringing activities. For example, search engines could be required to disable links to the website that is found to be violating copyright of a US company.

However, there are a number of serious and legitimate concerns regarding the scope of the legislation, as well as the potential for abuse, censorship, or other unintended consequences. The authors recognize the legislation still needs work and I will oppose any proposal that would fundamentally undermine or impede the ability of people to communicate, compete, and innovate using the Internet.

I am pleased that Majority Leader Reid has indefinitely postponed Senate consideration of the PROTECT IP Act, and I will continue to review and work to improve legislation to both protect the intellectual property of American businesses and to ensure the web remains free and open. As I consider proposals to address these issues, I will keep your views in mind.

Thank you again for contacting me on this topic. Please don’t hesitate to reach me again on this or any other issue in the future.

Sen. Brown on why he oppose anti-piracy bill

Back in November, I was one of many people who signed an online petition to stop an attempt by the media industry to persuade Congress that it should pass anti-piracy laws that threatened First Amendment rights on the Internet. A little while ago U.S. Sen. Scott Brown sent an email to those who signed that petition. Here’s the full text:

Dear Dan,

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property (PROTECT IP) Act (S. 968).  I am strongly opposed to this legislation.

As you know, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced S. 968 on May 12, 2011.  The PROTECT IP Act aims to provide law enforcement with tools to stop websites dedicated to online piracy and the sale of counterfeit goods.  However, many Americans feared that S. 968 would stifle freedom of expression and harm the Internet.

The Internet has been a source of dynamic growth in our economy and is responsible for employing many people in Massachusetts.  I have very serious concerns about increased government interference in this area and the effect of the PROTECT IP Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act (H.R. 3261, House companion legislation) on the Internet.  On January 18, 2012, I announced my opposition to the PROTECT IP Act.  You will be pleased to know that with opposition to the bill mounting, on January 20, 2012, the Senate Majority Leader announced that the scheduled vote on the PROTECT IP Act has been indefinitely postponed.

Again, thank you for sharing your views with me.  As always, I value your input and appreciate hearing from you.  Should you have any additional questions or comments, please feel free to contact me or visit my website at http://www.scottbrown.senate.gov.

Sincerely,
Scott P. Brown
United States Senator

Good for Brown — both for his opposition to this draconian legislation, and for letting his constituents know where he stands.

Fighting for our online freedom of speech

As I’m sure you already know, Wikipedia’s English-language site is the most prominent to go dark today in protest of two bills being considered by Congress to crack down on copyright infringement.

The bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), in the House, and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), in the Senate, are being pushed by major media corporations. Copyright infringement is a real problem, of course, but these bills would place the interests of copyright-holders above all other considerations. Save the Internet puts it this way:

If they are passed, corporations (with the help of the courts) will become the arbiters of what is and isn’t lawful online activity, with millions of Internet users swept in their nets as collateral damage.

Earlier item here. Note that the Big Brother poster I used to illustrate the item is missing. I wonder if that has anything to do with the protest.

And be sure to have a look at Google.

A new threat to online freedom of speech

Congress is coming after your Internet. Two proposals wafting their way through the House and the Senate would destroy the Internet as we know it, forcing some websites to shut down and others never to launch in order to avoid onerous penalties for copyright infringement.

As Dan Gillmor explains in the Guardian, the bills — known in the Senate as the Protect IP Act and in the House as the Stop Online Piracy Act — would end what is known as the “safe harbor” law. That law holds an Internet service harmless for hosting infringing material posted by a third party as long as it removes that material as soon as it receives notice from the copyright-holder.

Gillmor observes that YouTube never could have gotten off the ground if such a regime had been in effect at the time of its launching. “Congress is making common cause with a corporate cartel that wants to turn the Internet into little more than an enhanced form of cable television,” he writes.

According to Rebecca MacKinnon, writing in the New York Times, the proposals would set up blacklists to be administered by the U.S. attorney general, so that if a site were found to have infringed on copyright, it would essentially become invisible to anyone trying to find it. She compares the effect of the proposed law to the online censorship system that China uses, except that this one would be designed to protect the corporate interests of media companies rather than a government. MacKinnon argues that skittish businesses are already too eager to comply with takedown notices, and writes that the bills, if passed, could be used to suppress political debate:

Abuses under existing American law serve as troubling predictors for the kinds of abuse by private actors that the House bill would make possible. Take, for example, the cease-and-desist letters that Diebold, a maker of voting machines, sent in 2003, demanding that Internet service providers shut down Web sites that had published internal company e-mails about problems with the company’s voting machines. The letter cited copyright violations, and most of the service providers took down the content without question, despite the strong case to be made that the material was speech protected under the First Amendment.

Yesterday was American Censorship Day (sorry! I missed it!), and a number of sites blocked themselves to dramatize the effect of the proposals, according to the media-reform group Free Press.

Fortunately, David Kravets reports for Wired.com that a chief sponsor of the House bill, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, seemed to be having second thoughts during a three-and-a-half-hour hearing on Wednesday. But even a compromise could endanger the right to free speech if it empowers the government to act against individuals on behalf of corporations.

And let’s hear a shoutout for U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, a Republican presidential candidate who, as Gillmor notes, has come out against the House bill. I don’t believe the Obama administration has said a word. Sad to say, it doesn’t sound like the sort of thing this president would veto.

As a journalist, I rarely sign petitions. But I’m signing this as soon as I’m done writing, and I urge you to do so as well. The First Amendment is not a partisan cause.

Big Brother poster via Wikimedia Commons.