U.S. House Considers Copyright Bill

Today’s the day that the U.S. House Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on H.R. 3261, also known as SOPA (for Stop Online Piracy Act).

A letter to committee chair Lamar Smith signed by 13 groups, including the American Library, Human Rights Watch, Public Knowledge, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation expresses “deep concern” about SOPA, saying:

While we support appropriate copyright enforcement and want to ensure that creators around the world have the opportunity to be compensated for their works, SOPA as constructed would come at too high a cost to Internet communication and noninfringing online expression. The bill would set an irreversible precedent that encourages the fracturing of the Internet, undermines freedom of expression worldwide, and has numerous other unintended and harmful consequences.

Interestingly, the letter is signed by at least one group not known for being a bedfellow of the progressive movement, which several of the other signers might be considered to be. The Competitive Enterprise Institute is “dedicated to advancing the principles of limited government, free enterprise, and individual liberty.”

Presumably it’s the “individual liberty” part of its mission the CEI is concerned for. As the letter goes on to say,

[S]ection 103 of SOPA creates a private right of action of breathtaking scope. Any rightsholder could cut off the financial lifeblood of services such as search engines, user-generated content platforms, social media, and cloud-based storage unless those services actively monitor and police user activity to the rightsholder’s satisfaction.

An excellent infographic by Joe Brockmeier over at ReadWriteWeb makes the same point visually.

H.R. 3261is the House counterpart to a bill that has already cleared the U.S. Senate, the Protect IP Act.

Another signatory, TechFreedom, also issued a separate statement that noted

Last summer, House leaders assured Silicon Valley they would correct serious defects in Protect IP—defects that could cause long-term unintended damage to Internet innovation. Instead, SOPA replaces unworkable technology mandates with vague standards and open-ended requirements. The House bill, in an effort to future-proof the legislation, has actually made it much worse.

That was one of the points made in our Techwise Conversation last week with Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California, who is leading the charge against the bill in the House and represents the opposition’s best shot at defeating it. After all, unlike these citizens groups, she represents the nation's loudest voices in Congress—big business, in her case, those located in Silicon Valley, the heart of her Congressional district.

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