Stop Protecting Criminal Behavior: Why the Critics Are Wrong About the Stop Online Piracy Act

Criticism of the Stop Online Piracy Act usually falls under four major categories. When compared to the facts, these charges just do not hold up.
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Criticism of the Stop Online Piracy Act usually falls under four major categories. When compared to the facts, these charges just do not hold up.

Charge: Breaks the internet

The Facts: The Stop Online Piracy Act targets foreign criminal websites. There is nothing new about the methods used to target criminals in the Stop Online Piracy Act. They are currently used to protect consumers and combat all kinds of harmful behavior including spam, phishing, malware, viruses, copyright infringement and other forms of Internet crime. And this is happening without claims of harm to the Internet.

Google makes more decisions about website blocking than any other company or country in the world. They block websites every day, including in the United States.

Daniel Castro of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation addressed many of these claims in a report. He wrote:

Many inaccurate claims have been made about PIPA/SOPA by opponents of the legislation. The most serious of these claims to date is that the proposed countermeasures in PIPA/SOPA, particularly the DNS filtering obligation, would 'break the Internet' or otherwise harm users. This claim, which has been used by critics to rally the public, media and lawmakers to their cause, is completely unfounded and without merit." [ITIF, 12/5/11]

Charge: Promotes censorship

The Facts: Stealing is not free speech. The Stop Online Piracy Act upholds free speech and the First Amendment. Just as the First Amendment defends Americans' right to create, Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the Constitution, the Copyright Clause, guarantees Americans the ability to protect their creations from those who would steal them.

First Amendment expert Floyd Abrams wrote the following in an op-ed in the Washington Post:

Yet when legislation is introduced to put teeth in the effort to prevent rampant and unconstrained theft of copyrighted creative efforts, it has been denounced as creating 'walled gardens patrolled by government censors.' Or derided as imparting 'major features' of 'China's Great Firewall' to America. And accused of being 'potentially politically repressive.' This is not serious criticism. The proposition that efforts to enforce the Copyright Act on the Internet amount to some sort of censorship, let alone Chinese-level censorship, is not merely fanciful. It trivializes the pain inflicted by actual censorship that occurs in repressive states throughout the world. Chinese dissidents do not yearn for freedom in order to download pirated movies. [Washington Post, op-ed, 12/9/11]

Charge: Stifles innovation by targeting legitimate companies

The Facts: Piracy puts Americans' jobs at risk; the Stop Online Piracy Act encourages innovation and investment. Protecting intellectual property encourages economic growth. Under the bill, only the Justice Department can seek an injunction against a foreign website for which the primary purpose is illegal and infringing activity. It does nothing to add to the burden of companies that are engaged in legal activity.

What the technology companies aren't discussing is that their sector of the economy relies on content protection laws to grow. Consumers want content such as movies and TV shows. The tech sector creates products and websites that distribute the content from the creative industries. Inventors and investors have an incentive to invest time and money in content only if it will be protected.

Charge: Overly broad reach

The Facts: The Stop Online Piracy Act specifically targets foreign websites primarily dedicated to illegal activity or foreign websites that market themselves as such. The bill targets online criminals who profit from stolen American content and counterfeit goods and are a danger to American consumers.

As with all criminal activity, the courts, not "the government" will make the final decision. The Stop Online Piracy Act targets criminals who are currently violating copyrights but beyond the reach of current law. It follows established due process in our federal courts that already consider copyright infringement cases. In fact, foreign websites are afforded the same due process as Americans are.

It does not force social networks to monitor their sites and does not provide any authority for a judge to serve an order on social network sites. The bill also upholds the safe harbor protections under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Copyright protection is pro-Internet. It has given us the Internet today, alive with commerce, free speech and innovation.

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