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MailTribune.com
  • Drawing a line on piracy

    Wyden's alternative legislation poses less of a threat to the freedom of the Internet
  • Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden says he will filibuster legislation designed to combat copyright violators on the Internet. At midnight Tuesday night, the website Wikipedia, among others, will shut down for 24 hours to protest the same legislation. Which do you think will get more attention?
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  • Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden says he will filibuster legislation designed to combat copyright violators on the Internet. At midnight Tuesday night, the website Wikipedia, among others, will shut down for 24 hours to protest the same legislation. Which do you think will get more attention?
    If you said Wikipedia shutting down, you win — and that goes to show how fierce the debate over this legislation is getting.
    The two bills in question, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) in the Senate, would go after purveyors of pirated content online by shutting down Internet domains that host such content or even links to such content. That would be a sharp deviation from the long-held legal principle that Internet hosts are not liable for content posted by others.
    Opponents of the bills warn that passage could result in the government blocking all access to targeted websites, even prohibiting search engines from linking to them, all in response to complaints from content producers but without due process. Targeted websites would not be allowed to challenge the accusations before action was taken against them, and the government would have to act based only on an allegation from a content producer such as a movie studio or a recording company.
    Wyden says he opposes the legislation because it targets the Domain Name System, one of the building blocks of the Internet. Along with Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., among others — there he goes, working with Republicans again — he has drafted alternative legislation called the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) Act that would follow the money instead.
    The OPEN Act would give enforcement powers to the International Trade Commission, an independent federal agency that deals mostly with patent issues. The ITC would have to issue a ruling against a website before sanctions would be imposed. The remedy would be to direct payment service providers such as PayPal to stop sending money to the sites.
    That strikes us as a cleaner way to address the issue, without interfering with the very structure of the Internet.
    Law professor Eric Goldman, director of Santa Clara University's High Tech Law Institute, writes in his blog that he hasn't seen proof that any of the protesting content producers are losing substantial amounts of money. He says Wyden's OPEN bill is still flawed, but it's a far better choice if it leads to a real discussion of the problem and ways to solve it that preserve the freedom of the Internet.
    We agree.
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