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Critics: SOPA antipiracy legislation should target the real bad guys

Detractors of SOPA and other antipiracy legislation say new regulations are needed -- but they must be better targeted. To do so, they say regulators simply need to follow the money.

After vitriol from big-name Internet companies, the SOPA antipiracy legislation and PROJECT IP were shelved last week. Detractors of antipiracy legislation said that in addition to censoring the Internet, the legislation would have also increased costs and ultimately stifled online innovation.

Most agree that something needs to be done to protect intellectual property online. But instead of going after organizations that aren’t doing anything nefarious (at least not deliberately), critics urge regulators to follow the money and go directly after the bad actors.

“If you are a new search provider, or if you are any sort of website that relies on social- or user-generated content, rather than hiring your next engineer to develop and innovate, you’re going to have to hire a lawyer to comply with these new burdens and regulations,” said Stephen DeMaura, president of Americans for Job Security.

They came up with legislation that … really didn’t get all the necessary voices.

Under SOPA, the U.S. Department of Justice and copyright holders could seek court orders against websites accused of copyright infringement. Those orders could include bans on networks and payment facilitators that would prevent them from doing business with the allegedly infringing websites, barring search engines from linking to them, and requiring that Internet service providers block access. PROTECT IP is the Senate counterpart to the House of Representatives’ SOPA, and would implement similar rules.

DeMaura said complying with antipiracy legislation would stifle innovation by piling on yet another set of regulations for the technology industry.  With IT using resources to adhere to the rules, it could trickle down and even slow hiring for one of the biggest job-creating industries in the U.S., DeMaura added.

“It would be detrimental to efforts to rebuild our economy to put in place a new set of regulations that would harm their growth,” DeMaura added.

Claudia Rast, a partner at Ann Arbor, Mich.-based law firm Butzel Long, agrees that antipiracy legislation would definitely increase legal costs for online businesses. The legislation as written would require interpretation, advice and counsel, she said.

“Companies are going to see they have exposure and vulnerability and are going to be seeking advice of counsel in order to do that,” Rast said. “Any time you have a policy or procedure that is not clean, requires interpretation, requires a company to monitor their site to determine whether or not something is legit … that is extremely difficult.”

In a blog post criticizing antipiracy legislation, Google Inc. Chief Legal Officer David Drummond said regulations need to be targeted, focusing on “foreign rogue sites” making the most money from copyright infringement. Drummond and Google support alternative approaches to antipiracy, such as the OPEN Act

Drummond added that fighting online piracy is “extremely important” to Google.

“Last year alone we acted on copyright takedown notices for more than 5 million webpages and invested more than $60 million in the fight against ads appearing on bad sites,” Drummond wrote. “And we think there is more that can be done here -- like targeted and focused steps to cut off the money supply to foreign pirate sites. If you cut off the money flow, you cut the incentive to steal.”

Common antipiracy, anticensorship goals

Both sides of the issue actually have common goals, Rast said: The loudest voices in the pro-antipiracy campaign are members of the entertainment industry, such as the Motion Picture Association of America. Yet artists are also the last to want their freedom of expression censored.

Legislators just need to incorporate online regulations that have more input from both sides, she said.

“They came up with legislation that didn’t, in my mind -- and certainly, in those who criticize it -- really didn’t get all the necessary voices,” Rast said.

DeMaura said another option is to reinforce laws already on the books. He pointed to the recent arrest of those responsible for the file-sharing site Megaupload. The FBI charged executives with conspiracy to commit racketeering, conspiracy to commit copyright infringement, conspiracy to commit money laundering and criminal copyright infringement.

“The federal government already has a tremendous power to do some of this stuff -- it’s really about making those government regulations more effective, rather than rewriting regulations for the Internet,” DeMaura said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Ben Cole, Associate Editor.

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