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Could SOPA and PIPA Interfere with State Dept.’s Global Internet Freedom Agenda?

Corbin Hiar
iWatch News / News Report
Published: Friday 20 January 2012
“Anti-piracy bills pose a challenge for diplomats who’ve promoted the uncensored web to foreign governments.”

Two Internet anti-piracy bills working their way through Congress that are heavily backed by the movie industry could have significant impacts on technology companies, a threat highlighted Wednesday by WikipediaRedditBoingBoing and other sites that went offline for the day in protest. As a result, some reporters have characterized the standoff over the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act and the Senate’s Protect Intellectual Property Act – SOPA and PIPA for short – as a fight between Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

But at an event put on by The New RepublicWednesday, Alec Ross, the State Department’s senior advisor for innovation, pointed out that that this issue is bigger than California. If done wrong, anti-piracy legislation could restrict the rights of Internet users across the country – and put U.S. diplomats in a very awkward position.

“Any attempt to combat online piracy cannot have the unintended consequence of censoring legal online content,” Ross said, referring to SOPA. He suggested that some measures in that bill could be inconsistent with the State Department’s Internet advocacy.

The department’s global Internet freedom agenda was outlined by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a speech nearly a year before the uprising in Tunisia. In the wake of the Arab Spring revolutions that followed the overthrow of Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali – some of which were catalyzed or sustained by online communication — it has become a central tenant of the department’s so-called 21st Century Statecraft.

As Clinton explained back in January 2010, lawmakers should ensure that citizens have the right to access the open Internet:

"Governments should not prevent people from connecting to the Internet, to websites, or to each other. The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly, only in cyberspace. It allows individuals to get online, come together, and hopefully cooperate."

But this does not include the right to freely share copyrighted material online, she cautioned.

"Those who use the Internet to … distribute stolen intellectual property cannot divorce their online actions from their real world identities. But these challenges must not become an excuse for governments to systematically violate the rights and privacy of those who use the Internet for peaceful political purposes."

These principles could be compromised by the broadly written anti-piracy bills under consideration, opponents allege. In a letter submitted to Congress, Harvard law Professor Laurence Tribe pointed to one section of SOPA that authorizes suits by the attorney general against foreign websites that allegedly “facilitate” infringement. He explained that this provision would likely shutdown websites unable or unwilling to plead their cases, effectively restricting citizens’ rights to enjoy content that very well may not be in violation of copyright law.

"If the owner or operator cannot be located … it appears highly unlikely that there would ever be an adversary hearing testing the merits of the government’s allegations. Even where the owner or operator of a foreign site is known, it seems doubtful that the government’s allegations would be tested, since foreign sites will often be unwilling to enter a U.S. court. In the meantime, the blacklist would deny the right of U.S. audiences to receive constitutionally protected information — at the very time our government criticizes other countries for denying their citizens access to websites that lack official approval."

The administration addressed some of Tribe’s concerns in an official blog post published Saturday. It called for the bills’ authors to more effectively tailor the language of the legislation and ensure “strong due process” for websites hit by its provisions. While Ross praised the post for “unequivocally communicating a policy that is consistent with our Internet freedom agenda,” legislators have still not resolved the all of the issues raised by the White House.

In spite of these shortcomings, a vote to consider PIPA — the Senate’s version of SOPA — is planned for Tuesday. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D - Nev.) is one of a dwindling number of senators who still support the controversial measure. (His office did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.)

If PIPA fails to muster enough support to proceed, State Department diplomats like Ross may be among the many opponents to the anti-piracy bill that will cheer its demise.

Reprinted by permission from iWatch News



Karen Chun's picture

And I am a game developer

And I am a game developer facing the same threat from the Big Corporations sponsoring SOPA IPA.The shutdown and prosecution of MegaDownload.com shows that we ALREADY have laws on the books sufficient to go after pirates (MORE than sufficient) so all the ads by the Movie-TV-cable companies hysterically pushing SOPA are downright misleading (like that is new!)

Steven Ingham's picture

JayDee, I am also a

JayDee, I am also a musician,songwriter,etc, If these bills pass, those of us who are independents could have our sites challenged by the media corporations just to eliminate the competition. Do you have an Attorney on retainer to fend off false accusations that they own your stuff? Do you really think that they have any integrity when it comes to increasing profits? The crooks behind these bills are part of the same Wall Street hoods that took our economy down and stole our homes, IRA's etc. Unless you have a contract with Sony, you damed well better side with the rest of us little guys wile we still can. Don't you understand that the more your intellectual property is spread through out the internet, that the more well known you will become,and the more people with the means will buy your stuff? Those that might pilfer your stuff are most likely to poor to be able to buy it anyway so you are losing next to nothing. The big guys that are stealing your stuff are the same ones trying to get these bills passed. They tie up the courts with their lawyers and will just use the laws against you and me. Don't be nieve my friend. These laws will only result in making them richer and Censorship of the net for you and I. Unless you are a part of the 1%. Independents with music on the net like me make it more difficult for the big guys to be heard or seen. I can see lots of shady reasons for the one percent to get rid of us. Then every one has to play ball with them,and they can skim off the rest of us.

Karen Chun's picture

Steven Ingham - you are 100%

Steven Ingham - you are 100% correct and I have had experience with trying to stop a Canadian pirating my games to confirm it. PIPA/SOPA will more likely chill the internet sites I depend upon to publicize my games. Far from helping, they'll impair my profiting from my intellectual property.

zenplacefour's picture

JAYDEE - Below is a repost of

JAYDEE - Below is a repost of my response to comments made by "Don" regarding your post at http://www.nationofchange.org/after-today-s-sopa-blackout-clean-slate-13.... I am passionate about this issue as well.

I am a musician (singer, guitarist, songwriter) so I feel your pain. The upside to the internet and digital content is that the world is our oyster, and we have the ability for the first time in human history to record, market, and sell out music to anyone in the world...without the significant Draconian shackles of a corporate recording contract. Unfortunately, most musicians are struggling with the downside that is playing out in DC, and around the web; the scourge of illegal downloading vs. freedom of the internet.

It is an extremely frustrating time to be a musician. No one really has to pay for our music. Once posted, digital files are subjected to the new "honor system" economy. If people feel like paying for the product, they will...if they don't, they won't, and will easily find it for free. People will steal things because they can--not because it's right or because the product is valueless--just because they can and because there is virtually no chance of getting caught. Then justify the theft by explaining--as if an expert on the music industry--how musicians should be marketing their music by giving it away free in order to attract customers to their other music which, of course, they are confident that some other people will actually pay for, or how musicians should make their money having concerts, or by selling t-shirts, posters and other items (which apparently are harder for these experts to steal.) All I can say JAYDEE is…”Hang in there.”

----------------------------------------- reposts

Don... I believe you are being extremely patronizing and dismissive by suggesting that he/she "Stop crying and join the effort to stop piracy without limiting internet use." There is nothing in his comments to indicate, either way, his willingness to affect the "stop piracy" issue directly. JAYDEE simply appears to be a frustrated musician defending the right to be fairly compensated for their intellectual property. Only a fool could argue that this is actually the experience for most musicians in today's news-group, torrent, download world.
Don, are you seriously going to tell me that every 14 year old kid walking around with 10,000 songs on their 500GB iPod paid for them all at $.99 a piece? Songs are a product, no different from any other product in a capitalistic economy. So, if they didn't pay for the songs in their possession, that means they stole them. Right? There is no way to sanitize that fact, nor is there any doubt about how the songs came into their possession.
That is not to say that SOPA is reasonable. It is not. SOPA is a piece of overreaching, short-sighted, bloated, legislative trash! But of the articles I've read, and critics I've listen, none have referenced the plight of musicians. All of them seen intent on protecting nothing more than their own self-interest. That is, to avoid law-suits, and/or continue enjoying the freedoms and benefits derived from using copy-protected content without having to pay for it.
I believe this debate is long overdue, and I can only hope that SOPA is crushed; however, let's never forget who toils behind the scenes producing all of the content that makes this discussion even worth having...musicians and other creative talent all over the world. Thanks!

I have sent this reply to

I have sent this reply to MOVE.ON and several other orgs in response to requests to sign petitions:

I'd like to sign, BUT I CAN'T until advocates such as yourself finally acknowledge (as you have not up til now) that this IS NOT a one sided issue. I am a professional musician. DOES ANYONE IN YOUR ORGANIZATION care about the theft of my intellectual property? I have worked HARD for fifty years to refine my craft, and all of that work is returned unrewarded as long as internet thieves - now a substantial part of the "innocent" pubilc - are able to steal the fruits of my work and propagate them without my permission, and with no recompense to me.

I am concerned about the issues raised in this situtation - but I WILL NOT help organizations such as yours, and will resist all of your efforts, until I hear you acknowlede, and honor, the basic concept that I have a right to be paid for my hard work.

Karen Chun's picture

I make my living off of my

I make my living off of my copyrighted computer games. Existing copyright law and international treaties is sufficient to protect me. Except for the fact that the FBI (who is charged with enforcing copyright law) refuses to take any case under $5,000,000 which means that they work for the 1% not little guys like me. And SOPA will also work for the 1% - not you - not me.

SOPA and PIPA are more likely to stifle little guys like us.

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