Hearing on draconian new U.S. piracy legislation is under way

Today’s the day of the long awaited House Judiciary Committee’s hearing on the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation claims, “what could have been an opportunity for the committee to hear from a variety of stakeholders has devolved into parade of pro-SOPA partisans.”

The bill, introduced by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) and a group of 12 other co-sponsors, aims to combat the threat of “foreign rogue sites” that enable and/or facilitate copyright infringement and to strengthen penalties against thieves of intelectual property.

But a large group of technological and Internet companies (eBay, Facebook, Google, Mozilla, Twitter, Yahoo!, Zynga and others), public interest organizations (the EFF, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and Public Knowledge) consumer organizations and others argue that SOPA is written in such a broad language that it would allow the takedown of practically every website and that it would suppress innovation and allow online censorship.

The companies have taken the fight very seriously, and have issued an open letter to the Committee.

“We support the bills’ stated goals—providing additional enforcement tools to combat foreign ‘rogue’ websites that are dedicated to copyright infringement or counterfeiting,” they say. “Unfortunately, the bills as drafted would expose law-abiding U.S. Internet and technology companies to new and uncertain liabilities, private rights of action, and technology mandates that would require monitoring of websites. We are concerned that these measures pose a serious risk to our industry’s continued track record of innovation and job creation, as well as to our nation’s cybersecurity. We cannot support these bills as written and ask that you consider more targeted ways to combat foreign “rogue” websites dedicated to copyright infringement and trademark counterfeiting, while preserving the innovation and dynamism that has made the Internet such an important driver of economic growth and job creation.”

Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law Michael Geist made a number of excellent points regarding the overreaching of U.S. law and SOPA’s potential impact on the whole Internet.

As it seems, everybody is against SOPA – well, everybody except the entertainment industry and a number of trade groups, who helped draft the bill.

And as the hearing approached, it became clear that these organizations and groups have managed to make their interests pushed by five speakers who are scheduled to address the committee. In contrast, there is only one speaker that is scheduled to argue against SOPA – Katherine Oyama, a member of Google’s policy counsel on copyright and trademark law.

“This is a strategic choice, because the pro-SOPA folks know that Google is easy to dismiss on this topic, because they’ll claim (not accurately) that Google just wants to profit from infringement,” points out Mike Masnick. “Google is already under a lot of scrutiny in Congress, and so it makes it much easier for pro-SOPA supporters to say that ‘ah, the only opposition is Google.'”

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