We’re writing as a company today to express our concerns with a couple legislative bills currently being debated in Congress (the “Protect IP Act” and the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA). Much has been written, many have opposed, but the beat goes on. We think this kind of legislation is a big deal that doesn’t come around often. Here’s why:
As background, these bills would give the US government and private individuals additional enforcement tools to combat websites that may be engaged in copyright infringement or counterfeiting. The goal is clearly well meaning—online infringement is a serious issue that demands serious enforcement. As with many things, however, the devil is in how the goal will be accomplished. In summary, court orders can be sought against any website (wherever located) that is believed to be engaging in online infringement. If an order issues, payment providers and advertising networks can be barred from doing business with the site, search engines must stop returning results for the site and domain name servers would need to blacklist access to the site’s domain name.
Even after Congressional revision last month, the current bills remain extremely broad. Legitimate websites can be put on an “American blacklist” without warning or an opportunity to defend themselves (whether that blacklist would even be effective at stopping traffic to an offending site is a whole other issue). A single complaint could trigger a blacklist, with the burden of proof on that website to get itself unblocked. This could lead to unprecedented monitoring of websites, subject to individual judgment (read: censorship). Here at Ning, we don’t think our Network Creators should be subjected to that kind of policy.
This would be a radical restructuring of Internet law. Oodles of unproductive and time-consuming litigation would arise to challenge and interpret the bills. We think it’s necessary to have a careful, broad-based debate on more targeted and effective measures for combating online IP infringement.
Here’s what you can do: Learn more, join the fight. Contact your Representative or Senator and tell them to oppose these bills. These bills are being debated again when Congress returns to session in late January. Or just use the power of social media—you can make a difference.