Tech heavyweights such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Zynga are lining up in opposition to a copyright enforcement bill that will be the subject of a hearing in the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee on Wednesday: the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA.
The companies sent a letter to key members of both congressional chambers calling the bill a serious risk to the industry, the nation’s cybersecurity and job growth.
So what exactly is in this controversial bill that has these tech giants up in arms? There are, in fact, several measures included in it — measures that range from protecting pharmaceutical products from copycats to stronger enforcement tools for both the authorities and copyright holders whose rights have allegedly been violated.
Namely, SOPA would allow U.S. law enforcement officials to get court orders to block foreign websites that are hosting or otherwise facilitating copyright infringement so that it is available to U.S. users.
It also gives enforcement officials — as well as the copyright holders — the ability to require online service providers such as ad networks, search engines, and payment processors to stop processing these sites’ transactions.
Among the bill’s advocates are the music and recording industries, which have been struggling for a decade or more to curb online copyright infringement. The tools provided in this bill are powerful enough to make websites cease operating almost overnight.
Other entities supporting the bill include the Teamsters and the AFL-CIO, which maintain that the bill will protect jobs — contrary to what the aforementioned tech companies assert.
A senate committee has approved its version of the bill, called the Protect IP Act.
A Nightmare to Implement
Implementing the bill, however, could be a tactical nightmare, which is why so many tech firms hate it, Stefan Mentzer, a partner in the Intellectual Property Practice at White & Case, told the E-Commerce Times.
“It will impose a significant burden on tech companies and their intermediaries,” he said.
Some of the bill’s opponents have posited that it will result in changes to the Domain Name System. Certainly lists of suspect Internet domains will be compiled, with accused firms likely to find themselves in the position of having to prove themselves innocent while their websites remain in limbo.
“It would create an entirely new notice and counter-notice procedure for payment providers and advertising services,” Mentzer said. “Any time a copyright holder decides to pursue an action, this procedure will have to go into effect.”
The fear is that such requests will mount quickly and overwhelm service providers, he said.
Not Adequate to the Task
Copyright holders, however, make a valid point when they say the current laws and enforcement mechanisms are not sufficient to protect their intellectual property, he continued.
Indeed, they could make a case that the bill before the House is not strong enough, Mentzer continued.
“The bill, doesn’t, after all, create liability for those companies that are facilitating alleged infringement. What it does do is provide a mechanism to force those companies to cut off services to an infringing website,” he said.
However, the truth is that this issue has become so complicated that there is no one piece of legislation that would be able to end online infringement, he explained.
“That is the reality of the Internet and how it works today,” Mentzer said.
Giving the Department of Justice better enforcement tools, however, will be a big leap forward, Peter Toren, a partner at Shulman Rogers, told the E-Commerce Times.
“The Justice Department in the past has tried to work with payment providers to get them to cease processing funds for sites like these, but it hasn’t had the explicit authority to do so. So its results have been hit and miss,” he said.