No censorship yet: why SOPA, PIPA shelved for now

January 25, 2012
Duquesne Duke

Censorship of the Internet could be an end-all for cracking down on websites that break copyright. But that won’t be the case, for now.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) bills introduced in the House of Representatives and Senate Oct. 26, 2011 and May 12, 2011, respectively, both focus on protecting intellectual property, which includes copyright and trademark, as well as prosecuting pirated content. Both bills have been postponed as of Jan. 20 due to disagreement in Congress and protests.

Tom Lizzi, Duquesne adjunct law professor and president of IP and Internet Law North law firm in Zelienople, cites the goals of both bills as stopping violation of intellectual property rights of U.S. entities, with an emphasis on cracking down on foreign companies, and not directly U.S. websites.

SOPA and PIPA “deal with similar subject matter and are crafted as if they were looking over each other’s shoulders,” Lizzi said. “[They are] essentially the same legislation but are different versions.”

John Ziegler, executive director of CTS at Duquesne, see issues with copyright infringement.

“We work very hard to avoid any type of copyright problem here [at Duquesne], but it still can happen,” Ziegler wrote in an e-mail to The Duke. “I think if people stopped illegal downloading, most of this conversation would end.”

The penalty for websites who violate copyright and intellectual property, under the bills, is a complete shutdown of the site.

“This is [an] inherent problem when penalty is an on-off situation, the website is on and running or not,” Lizzi said, adding that he didn’t think these are the” best mechanisms” for dealing with copyright infringement.

Mike Doyle, (D) representative for the 14th district Pittsburgh, has opposed SOPA “from the beginning.”

“The solution that’s offered in SOPA is ‘I have a headache, let’s cut my head off,'” Doyle said. “[It’s] too overreaching.”

Doyle said SOPA is “pretty much dead” in the House of Representatives, and there has been indication the Senate’sPIPA bill will be put on the backburner as well, he said.

Both bills would also put responsibility on websites for “policing” pirated content on websites.

“It’s very easy to see why the Wikipedia’s and major sites, Google etc., are against these two bills, because it puts the burden or policing the internet on them without any compensation,” Lizzi said. “If you think about giving them compensation, it could give them incentive to shut down other sites.”

Ziegler sees issues with the bills, but still thinks they address important issues.

“This may not be the best way to do it, but we need to find a way to stop copyright infringement,” Ziegler said.

Doyle believes a bill needs to be fashioned that gives both sides protection and due process, and he is currently co-sponsoring a bill that would do that.

The Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act, also known as the OPEN act, which was introduced Jan. 18 in the House, focuses more on willfully pirated content and sets up a due process for those who have violated copyright.

“It’s completely different approach than SOPA,” Doyle said.

The OPEN act would target websites that willfully post pirated content, Doyle said, and then make sure the other websites who have broken copyright would have a fair investigation.

Under Doyle’s bill, websites would not be shut down, he said. Instead, their plan is to use financial pressures on the websites, restricting sites with pirated content so they would not be able to get advertisers.

Lizzi thinks the two bills, although on hold for now, are more of the same from those on Capitol Hill.

“The entertainment industry is constantly lobbying Congress to protect their assets. [The bills are] just another attempt to do that,” Lizzi said.