SOPA, PIPA Bills Pit Piracy Controls Against Free Speech

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In our internet age it’s something we so take for granted — the open and easy access to both information and entertainment.

But lawyers representing the entertainment industry say the illegal downloading of copyrighted property is robbing intellectual property owners of billions of dollars.

“Overwhelmingly, the supporters of the bills are the motion picture and music industries,” said University of Minnesota law professor William McGeveran.

Professor McGeveran said the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its senate counterpart, Protect IP Act (PIPA) are intended to crack down on rogue websites outside U.S. borders. Those sites profit by taking copyrighted and protected materials like movies and music and putting them up for download worldwide.

“The people who own the content are concerned that they want extra tools, particularly for sites off-shore in other countries, that we don’t have U.S. jurisdiction over them,” he said.

But it’s the way they’d approach the crackdown that has web-based companies like Wikipedia and others so upset that they promise to go dark for 24 hours in protest.

That’s because in an effort to outlaw these infringing “rogue websites,” other internet providers and domestic websites doing business with them could be held liable and subject to stiff fines.

While the law’s intent is to protect against online piracy, the way the bills are written could result in unintended censorship and abuse.

“I think a lot of people see this as a giant sledgehammer designed to deal with what’s really a specific and limited problem,” said University of Minnesota media ethics and law professor, Jane Kirtley.

President Obama and some in Congress are already second guessing the two proposed pieces of legislation. The President has gone so far as to ask for alternative measures to be drafted that would be more amenable to internet companies.

“It’s fair to say that the holders of copyrighted materials have the ability to protect that,” Professor Kirtley said. “This is an attempt to deal with what’s truly an international problem in a way that I think will disproportionately impact sites here in the U.S.”

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