Friday, October 28, 2011

Intellectual Property, the Internet and Law

Intellectual property (IP) very often represents the hard work of talented people, and those people understandably want to protect their work from theft. Who can argue with that? I’d bet that we can all agree that we’d like to “stop online piracy,” and “protect IP.” But the House bill (Stop Online Piracy) and the Senate bill (Protect IP) by these names are not the answers we need. I believe that they are the result of well-meaning but poorly informed members of congress listening to narrowly focused input from entertainment industry lobbyists without also listening to people knowledgeable about the Internet and about the risks of blunt instruments on complicated systems.

Most troubling is that it appears that if these bills become law, intellectual property holders claiming infringement can cause entire sites to be taken down. These proposals fail to recognize the realities of the way things actually work on the Internet. The problem goes beyond a lack of due process (though that by itself seems like a big problem). The larger problem is that the proposed legislation involves a simplistic view of the Internet with remedies that could easily cast too wide a net. Independent entities hosted at the same site, with content unrelated to the infringement claim, could be taken offline or otherwise made unavailable. This could cause real harm to innocent parties.

Enacting all that these bills propose would result in dangerous overreach through law. The texts of these bills describe not surgical actions available following due process, but a big hammer to be wielded by almost anyone far too easily. It would ask a great deal more of web site operators and ISPs, while making (non-infringing) parts of the Internet seem less available, predictable and reliable.

It’s possible for reasonable people to be against the theft of intellectual property and yet still to find proposals such as Protect IP and the Stop Online Piracy Act to be wrong-headed and dangerous. I’m one of those people.

Do you have an opinion on this topic? Please leave us a comment!


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1 comment:

  1. Some interesting follow up on this topic:

    Awareness campaigns (and citizens vocalizing their displeasure with the bills) seem to have been successful in slowing down this fast-moving legislation. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) recently said he would filibuster it by reading the names of all the Americans who oppose it.