Continued Concerns about the Senate’s PROTECT IP Bill, with a House Bill Likely to be Introduced Soon

BY Ali Sternburg
October 24, 2011

There may not be extensive overlap between the beliefs and values of members of the Tea Party and the tech sector, but the threat of excessive government regulation and control over the Internet, posed by the PROTECT IP Act, now appears to have united them on at least this front.  Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) recently sent out a letter stating:  “While I understand the importance of safeguarding Americans’ intellectual property rights, I have serious concerns about government getting involved in regulation of the internet, and about ambiguities in this legislation which could lead to an explosion of destructive, innovation-stalling lawsuits.”  Any attention being drawn to the dangerous authority this bill grants is useful, adding to the variety of stakeholders opposing PROTECT IP.  The tech industry has also sent aletter to members of Congress to block this harmful bill. The PROTECT IP Act has not been introduced yet in the House, but is expected to be introduced soon.

Last month, entrepreneurs in the Internet space shared their disapproval of the Senate’s version of the legislation, and the negative impacts it would have on legitimate online businesses, due to its overly broad definitions.  They effectively summarize, invoking the all-too-familiar “war” rhetoric of copyright enforcement, the reality that “[i]ntroducing this new regulatory weapon into the piracy arms race won’t stop the arms race, but it will ensure there will be more collateral damage along the way.”

CCIA President and CEO Ed Black wrote an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle several months ago, highlighting the consequences of the dangerous power that could be granted to “Big Content” and the Justice Department to limit free speech online, likening the Internet blacklisting to censorship in China.  Other groups that have written letters opposing PROTECT IP, a variety of diverse and influential groups, include a group of Internet technicians with significant DNS experiencea large group of Venture Capitalistspublic interest groupslaw professors, and the editorial boards of the New York Times and L.A. Times.  Each of their letters contains numerous compelling reasons why the PROTECT IP Act is flawed, and each is worth reading.  Their criticism can help ensure Congress is better informed of the technical, liberty, and innovation-related issues with the Senate bill, and will hopefully be reflected in the forthcoming House bill.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) placed a hold on the Senate bill in May, stating: “I understand and agree with the goal of the legislation, to protect intellectual property and combat commerce in counterfeit goods, but I am not willing to muzzle speech and stifle innovation and economic growth to achieve this objective. . . . The collateral damage of this approach is speech, innovation and the very integrity of the Internet.”  This is a familiar theme of almost all the opposition; most critics recognize and appreciate the goal of ensuring that creators and innovators thrive and profit online, but not the chilling method that PROTECT IP drafters have thus far taken.  The expanded authority that PROTECT IP would give to the government and to private actors to shut down websites is fatally overbroad, and should continue to be vocally opposed by all of the diverse parties interested in keeping the Internet open and democratic.  Accomplishing the titular goal of “Preventing Real Online Threats” does not justify, to quote Ed Black, this “‘nuclear option’ that would crush free speech and break the Internet to combat copyright infringement.”

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