The internet makes sharing information quick and easy, but sometimes it also facilitates the spread of misinformation. Such is the case with HR 3261, the Stop Internet Piracy Act (“SOPA”).
Let me take a quick moment and point out that I do not support SOPA. Erick Erickson wrote a post last week that lays out some of the main problems with the bill, but the short story is that it gives too much power to a government agency without proper safeguards to protect free speech.
I have seen some chatter online this month criticizing Senator Marco Rubio for supporting SOPA, but this criticism is misdirected. Part of the confusion seems to stem from Rubio’s co-sponsorship of a separate bill in the Senate, S. 968, the Protect IP Act.
The Protect IP Act does allow the Attorney General to pursue action against websites that commit infringement of intellectual property rights, but there are several key restrictions in the grant of this power. First, the Act targets only “nondomestic domain names” (see Section 2(9) for definition), so no American-hosted website could be affected.
Second, the Act only allows action against websites that are “dedicated to infringing activities” (see Sections 2(7)(A) and (B)) or, in other words, websites that have “no significant use other than engaging in, enabling, or facilitating” copyright infringement, selling or distributing counterfeit goods, etc. Note also that the Act cites existing copyright laws and standards, meaning that the already-established standards for fair use and other limitations on copyright law apply in this situation.
Finally, and most importantly, the Act establishes procedures for notice, service of process, and court review before action could be taken (see, e.g., Section 3(b)(2) and (c)).
The bottom line is that the Protect IP Act is designed to target the Chinese website that is selling unauthorized copies of Lion King DVDs, a Russian website selling counterfeit Coach purses, a Canadian website selling fake prescription drugs, etc., not to block your blog because you embedded a YouTube video that infringed on someone else’s intellectual property.
I don’t trust Eric Holder, not one bit, but this Act is not going to give him carte blanche to go wild shutting down websites he doesn’t like (and I truly believe he would happily do so if we gave him that power).
Just to make sure I was absolutely clear, I called and spoke with a friend in Senator Rubio’s office earlier today and confirmed that Rubio “absolutely, positively does not support” SOPA. SOPA is a House bill, with completely different wording from anything in the Senate (including the Protect IP Act), and if SOPA does pass the House and come over to the Senate, Rubio will oppose it.
Copyright infringement and counterfeiting costs American artists, inventors, and companies a significant amount of money every year, and unfortunately, many foreign governments not only condone this theft of American intellectual property, they encourage it (cough, cough, we’re looking at you, China). That’s what is concerning Rubio, not any desire to censor the internet or stifle free speech.
Far too many of the posts I’ve seen on this issue have exaggerated the situation, jumped to conclusions, and unfairly assigned sinister motivations to Rubio and others. As I said earlier, I will not defend SOPA nor its sponsors (I think Erickson is correct to call for them to be primaried) but going after Rubio is misguided and unproductive. He’s on our side. We have a lot of vitally important battles to fight in the next few years. Let’s keep our gunpowder dry for the targets that deserve it, instead of launching premature attacks on fellow Republicans.