As most people know by now, Congress has been debating online piracy legislation. As one who has consistently opposed taxing and regulating the Internet, I am not surprised that the first impulse of many in Washington is to regulate.
The main bills being considered are the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House, and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate. Both bills, while attempting to fix a serious problem, are seriously flawed.
Thankfully both bills have been put on ice, largely thanks to the mass protest on Wednesday, January 19, which generated a barrage of calls and e-mails to congressional offices by those concerned about maintaining Internet freedom. The piracy of movies, music, software and other consumer products harms the U.S. economy, for sure. But I oppose the legislation because the SOPA and PIPA approach would undermine Internet communications, and corrode our liberty.
Indeed, many have rightly expressed concerns about the impact on free speech. The legislation contains overly broad definitions and imposes censorship on the Internet. SOPA and PIPA would provide a heavy hand to enforce the law, entrusting the government with powers which would not be easily constrained. Currently, copyrighted material must be taken down if a website were in violation. This legislation allows the government to block entire websites, not just the copyrighted material.
Rather than go after the pirates who operate overseas and are not under U.S. jurisdiction, these bills focus on Internet service providers, financial transaction providers, Internet advertising services, and Internet Search engines. As a result, the legislation will not stop piracy and those who are most taking advantage of it. China and the rest of the world will continue pirating. Hackers will know how to get around the ban. In fact, as the Heritage Foundation notes there is already a downloadable program available to work around the block imposed under these bills.
In addition, U.S. electronic commerce will suffer. Companies will have to spend money to protect themselves, and it could easily create a morass of litigation.
All this would only increase the cost of doing business – costs which will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. It may also push tech jobs out of the U.S. Why do business here when you can go offshore and not have to contend with any new burdensome and heavy-handed law?
I have always felt that the Internet has experienced unprecedented growth as a result of freedom from oppressive regulation and excessive government interference. We, as a society, must be committed to maintaining this environment so that it can continue to flourish. It has become so essential to so much that we do. We must continue to be vigilant and ensure that serious burdens are not placed on businesses and Internet users. To the millions of Americans who buzzed Congress, well done!