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As an owner of Macer Media, publisher of The Sacramento Press, I have never made a political statement on this site. Today I will, out of self-preservation, and a concern for what is just and good for this site, and the people of this community in general.
Wikipedia went black Wednesday due to its strong opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Google also voiced its opposition with a link on its homepage. Many other Interenet companies took similar steps.
So the first question is: What is SOPA?
SOPA is a piece of proposed legislation in the House of Representatives aimed at, you guessed it, stopping piracy. The main proponent of the bill is the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and is sponsored by Congressman Lamar Smith (R-Texas). The bill has both strong bipartisan support and strong bipartisan opposition. In other words, this is not at all an issue divided down party lines. Last weekend, the White House came out in opposition to the bill due to concerns about national cyber-security. A very similar bill is to be voted on in the Senate on Jan. 24, called the Protect IP Act (PIPA).
The bill’s proponents claim that the bill is aimed at stopping the piracy of American intellectual property by foreign agents. The Wall Street Journal has an excellent FAQ covering most of the basics of the bill.
So what’s the harm?
Free speech, due process and commercial viability of Internet sites who accept user-generated content are all at risk due to this legislation.
The trouble is in the wording of the bill, which gives the government and copyright holders enormous new powers to stop sites they believe are violating their intellectual property. And while the bill is targeted at foreign agents, nebulous wording would allow for significant compliance and liability costs to be passed along to organizations such as ours. This burden could easily put an organization such as The Sacramento Press out of business.
Even the well-known constitutional lawyer Floyd Abrams, who was paid by the MPAA to write a letter touting the bill, admits that, “When injunctive relief includes blocking domain names, the blockage of non-infringing or protected content may result.” Censoring a little free speech can’t hurt that much, right?
That’s a good question and one of my biggest problems with the bill. The bill is premised on the idea the piracy is rampant AND that it causes material harm to the United States in the form of lost jobs and lost revenue. The question is, where’s the proof? Tim O’Reilly, owner of O’Reilly Books and a successful digital and print publisher (owner of lots of intellectual property) says it best:
“There's no question in my mind that piracy exists, that people around the world are enjoying creative content without paying for it, and even that some criminals are profiting by redistributing it. But is there actual economic harm?”
I believe that it should be the burden of the proponents of the bill to prove economic harm before seeking a legislative solution.
There has only been one significant independent study done on international piracy concerns, and one of the conclusions it makes is, “…we see little reason to think that changes in IP protection or enforcement will significantly affect (international piracy).”
This is bad legislation that restricts our rights, is aimed a problem that possibly doesn’t exist and will likely do little to prevent what piracy does.
For these reasons, our company strongly opposes SOPA and PIPA.
I’m happy to answer any question and concerns you might have in the conversation below. Here is a link to the full text of the bill.