California's heavy-hitter industries are duking it out over a controversial bill in Congress.
As Hollywood stakeholders see it, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) would aggressively protect copyrighted content on the Internet – stopping bootlegged movies online, for instance. But as the tech giants argue, including Google and Twitter, SOPA is too far-reaching and burdensome to fairly police online activity. They also worry about excessive regulations hindering start-ups and innovation. Of course, it is already illegal to sell or share pirated movies, fake pills and counterfeit fashion on the street or online.
SOPA would add greater empowerment for law enforcement to shut down websites and block access to foreign sites suspected of copyright violations. Michael O'Leary of the Motion Picture Association of America said he's glad to see Congress clamp down on piracy. "Right now the creative community all across the United States is suffering because thieves are hiding overseas, and using websites to steal and profit from American products," he said. According to O'Leary, the bill would also protect consumers that purchase things like prescription medications, "who need to know that they're buying a legitimate, safe product," he added.
Markham Erickson of The Net Coalition said that Congress' bold legislation move has become a farce because of its harshness. He added that the rush to pass a solution to the problem of piracy has been lamented by many on the web.
According to Erickson, no one has suggested support for piracy. However, "there is a way to do better here and I think we can," he said. "The collateral damage that this legislation would impose on internet infrastructure and innovation is not worth the effort that is being proposed in Congress right now."
Erickson said that creating technologies to block user access to foreign sites that have been deemed harmful goes too far. Instead, he suggests that the real solution would be cutting off funds to these illegal offshore sites, rendering them unable to continue service.
"U.S. citizens are going to get a different version of the Internet just like Chinese citizens do," warns Corynne McSherry of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In short, opponents of SOPA say it would kill the Net as we know it.
The entertainment industry, including unions and companies, call that an exaggeration. Their intent for SOPA is not censorship, rather to target foreign sites that steal content. The list of supporters is long, mighty and motley: ABC, AFL-CIO, American Society of Composers, Comcast, Copyright Alliance, Major League Baseball, the NFL, Motion Picture Association of America, National Association of Manufacturers, National Cable & Telecommunications Association, Pfizer Inc, Revlon, Visa Inc. and more. The opponents are no slouches either: Google, eBay, PayPal, Facebook,Yahoo!, Amazon.com, Bloomberg LP, Expedia, Wikipedia, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and more.
Does SOPA go too far? Are there any alternatives? What are the practical implications of blocking Internet sites? Would this unfairly direct Internet search traffic to some sites over others? Is it possible to “break” the World Wide Web?
Michael O'Leary, Senior Executive Vice President, Motion Picture Association of America
Markham Erickson, Executive Director, The Net Coalition representing leading global Internet and technology companies, including Google, Yahoo!, Amazon.com, eBay, IAC, Bloomberg LP, Expedia and Wikipedia.