Government Censorship of the Internet: SOPA and PIPA Return

In January, a diverse coalition came together to defeat controversial legislation that could result in government censorship of the internet and stifle innovation.  Supporters of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA), which claim to crack down on online piracy overseas, crumbled under the pressure.

At the time, Heritage Action’s CEO Michael A. Needham made clear that “we will remain vigilant because bad ideas never die in Washington.”  Unfortunately, that warning proved prophetic.  Today, CQ (sub. req’d) reports the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is renewing its push for anti-piracy legislation:

The powerful business lobby, perhaps the biggest supporter of controversial legislation intended to stem online piracy, is at it again. The group is up with a billboard advertisement in Manhattan’s Times Square and an online video series urging Congress to “protect America’s IP rights.”

The August before a presidential election is not usually viewed as a prime time to kick off an advocacy campaign, but a soft launch may be the best choice for Chamber lobbyists bent on backing one of the more controversial proposals this Congress has tackled.

The Chamber says it is not pushing any particular bill and characterizes the campaign as a chance to raise awareness and reshape public opinion after efforts to pass legislation imploded last winter.

“This is an awareness campaign about the prevalence and danger of counterfeit goods — not a legislative push,” said Trinh Nguyen, spokeswoman for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global IP Center. “This campaign is not political.”

As promised, Heritage Action “will move vigorously to oppose any new iteration that weakens internet security, disrupts online growth or restrict free speech rights.”  The Heritage Foundation’s James Gattuso explains there are massive unintended consequences associated with SOPA and PIPA:

There is no doubt that online piracy is a real problem. Websites selling counterfeit goods, including tangible items, such as branded clothing and pharmaceuticals, and digital goods, such as Hollywood movies, have proliferated on the Internet. Such activity is a form of theft, and the federal government has a legitimate role in preventing it. Currently, U.S. authorities can, and do, shut down domestically based “pirate” websites by seizing control of their domain names under asset-forfeiture laws. But a large number of rogue sites are located outside the United States, putting them largely out of the reach of U.S. authorities.

SOPA is intended to undercut such rogue sites by prohibiting third parties from enabling their activity.

Clearly, a campaign to simply raise awareness of the problems SOPA and PIPA seek to solve ignores (perhaps intentionally) the reason the bills failed in the first place.  Americans will not be fooled so easily.

Related Resources:
Key Vote Alert: “NO” on SOPA and PIPA
SOPA: Another Government Power Grab
Free Speech: An Unintended Victim of Protect IP and SOPA?
Online Piracy and SOPA: Beware of Unintended Consequences
Online Piracy (SOPA) and Internet Security (PIPA) Bills in Congress


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