Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Internet Freedom and Intellectual Property

For the last couple of years I have been telling friends of mine who are interested in law that, if their interest is in helping craft law and making a good deal of money while doing it, they ought to go into intellectual property and copyright law. This is where the major fights are popping up, made no more clear right now than in the battle brewing within the halls of Congress. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) are under debate right now, intent on helping save intellectual property--primarily music and film from Hollywood--that is being pirated and copied and distributed en masse without anything being paid to the creators and owners of those works. SOPA and PIPA would punish companies that post pirate content online and allow the government to shut down websites that post intellectual property. This is mostly aimed at foreign websites, particularly in Asia, that illegally traffic a great deal of American work to the huge black market. Proponents say it is a necessary step to protect the labor and property of U.S. firms from rampant piracy. Opponents claim that this is giving the government and certain firms far too much power, and that it will lead to dangerous curtailments of internet freedom.

The divisions in this show how contentious and big the intellectual property battle will be, and all sorts of odd alliances are appearing. In favor of SOPA you have Motion Picture Association of America, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO, the Recording Industry Association of America, Netflix, the Directors Guild of America, Viacom, Nike, L'Oreal, Ford, Pfizer, NBC Universal, the National Basketball Association, and scores of trade unions, business organizations, and entertainment industry groups. Yes, the AFL-CIO, Hollywood, and the Chamber of Commerce all working together. Silicon Valley represents the bulk of the opposition, which includes Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, eBay, Wikipedia, and Mozilla, in addition to groups such as the Brookings Institution, American Express, Reporters Without Borders, the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, and the Tea Party Patriots. The Tea Party allied with the Silicon Valley giants and ACLU.

Congress is even more split, with all sorts of unusual alliances being made over SOPA. In favor of the act are a diverse sets of members including Howard Berman (D-CA, from Hollywood), Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), Steve Chabot (R-OH), Elton Gallegly (R-CA), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Lamar Smith (R-TX), Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA). Opponents, meanwhile, include Darrel Issa (R-CA), Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Ron Paul (R-TX), Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and John Conyers (D-MI). Odd, yes, to see Rubio, Feinstein, Boxer, and Grassley pitted against Issa, Pelosi, the Pauls, and Bachmann. I have not yet decided, but at this pointed I am leaning towards the argument against SOPA in its current form, and I say that as someone who has a very vested interest in protecting intellectual property, especially that of the entertainment industry. I just fear that there are not enough safeguards in SOPA in its current form, and that it would thus be dangerous to internet freedom and pose a direct threat to social media, Facebook and YouTube in particular. It is imperative that we find a way to stop online piracy, which costs American firms hundreds of billions of dollars a year, but we need to do it in a way that balances protecting both internet freedom and intellectual property.
Categories > Technology

Discussions - 2 Comments

Why is additional protection necessary? You already have the DMCA notice and take down provisions, you have Berne. Why is it necessary to get the DOJ involved and put even more pressure on ISP's like Google?

How can Google even comply with this bill given its judicially created duties to respect privacy?

It is no suprise that Mary Bono Mack (R-CA) supports this. Sony Bono gave us the Mickey Mouse protection act which extended copyright protection, yet AGAIN. A small group of business insiders want additional special protection.

I'm ambivalent about all this. One only thing that allows some segments of our labor force to get so very rich (e.g., entertainers, athletes) is the media - you give a little joy to A LOT of people and you rake in the cash. On the other hand, what these people are actually contributing to our society isn't that much (and sometimes they are actually subtracting for social "goods" - gangsta rap, for instance). For the most part, I don't think they actually "earn" the right to be rich.

Societies prior to the mass media understood this. Minstrels eked out a meager existence by playing to small audiences, as did actors and athletes. What they earned was more appropriate for their contribution to productive society. Not so now.

So, you live by the media you die by it. I can't feel sorry for artists and athletes who are having their material "pirated." They do have a point in that they are losing some income, but if it means shutting down the "open range" of the Internet then the cure is worse than the disease.

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