Online piracy legislation has gotten the public's attention

Georgene Rice interviews Dan Hollar, Director of Communications with Heritage Action for America,  to discuss the conservative opposition to the anti-piracy bills.                         

Georgene: Search engines went dark to protest the anti-piracy bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA). The two bills, strongly backed by the entertainment industry, were hurdling their way through congress until Senator Ron Wyden, among a small handful of tech savvy lawmakers raised the alarm. They prepared an alternative.

Tech experts have warned that requiring internet service providers and advertizing networks to cut off access to foreign sites accused of piracy could damage the internets basic architecture. Heritage Action for America have come out in opposition to SOPA and PIPA.

Piracy has been a problem for some time. Tell us what these bills were supposed to address.

Dan: SOPA and PIPA were intended to address the copyright infringement and piracy that we are seeing offshore. There is already legislation to address domestic activity. There is a very real need to protect intellectual property from folks overseas. We all agree on the problem, but Washington has came up with a terrible solution.

SOPA and PIPA give copyright holders and the government the ability to force third-party folks such as Google, PayPal, or advertising networks to block access to one of these sites.  On its face it doesn’t seem like a terrible thing but definitions within the bills lead to ambiguity and leads people to question what impact it has on free speech, or new tech companies who want to come up with a model. There is not a lot of clarity on what it may mean.

Georgene: I understand a federal court or judge would have to make a decision before one of these third-parties would be called upon to do anything to address these parites thought to be violating the law.

Dan: Yes, and once again we don’t know what standard they would used becaue of how ill-defined it is. Also, the larger companies, like Google, can manage to work there way around this, but it would be an economic problem for the newer, start-up companies. They don’t have the ability to understand the nuances of how this would be implemented or have the lawyers to help them everytime they attempt to block something. It would stifle new companies trying to develop.

Goergene:  Heritage has indicated there could be unintended and dangerous consequences. Besides, what you’ve mentioned what kinds of problem could come from this type of legislation?

Dan: Besides the very important economic impacts, you have the government in the role of being able to regulate the internet. They then have the structure to regulate other things on the internet that they deem bad. It goes against the nature of the internet as an open-source, open-platform mass of innovation. For developed countries this accounts for one-fifth of their economic growth. So huge impact on the economic side, and a slippery slope on the freedom of speech end.

Georgene: Ron Wyden and others have opposed this and have came up with the “Open Act”, as an alternative, which requires the U.S. Trade Commision to investigate the activities of foreign websites accused of piracy.

Dan: Even though I haven’t had a good chance to look at the Open Act closely. I do think there is going to be some of the same concerns about what relationship individuals play, the powers of the federal government and what forms of regulations and limits they can place on companies on the internet.

Georgene: Has anyone crafted a plan that addresses the concerns you have raised in these bills, while at the same time addressing this growing problem of internet piracy? Is there common ground that you see between the entertainment industry and the internet businesses that could forge a solution?

Dan: It’s an interesting dichotomy, the old movie and music entertainment media style vs the new online social media industry. Not only do they operate differently, they organize politically very differently. Old media works through associations. The new through crowd sourcing of social networks. They are very different in their lifestyle, models, cultures and policy preferences. There is a large bridge between them. There may be a happy medium in there somewhere but I don’t think we’ll find it too soon.

The really good thing about this is that the American people are becoming aware of the problem, and brings it into the public sphere on how you tackle this problem without stiffling speech and innovation.

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