By Bill Wilson — Faced with a barrage of criticism for new legislation that professes to deal with Internet piracy, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith has introduced a manager’s amendment that has, according to Smith, “addressed I believe all of the legitimate concerns out there.”
There’s only a small problem. It doesn’t come close to addressing all of the concerns with this legislation. In fact, it doesn’t appear to have changed much about it at all.
This legislation will still give government the power to censor the Internet in the name of protecting copyright. It will still threaten any website that allows users to upload content with being shut down, including social networks and search engines.
It still takes the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and throws them in the garbage. Those safe harbor provisions have for years protected websites that provided easy takedown procedures for potential infringing materials, and already had a system in place for their removal under current law.
The bill will still allow copyright holders to pursue private actions against alleged infringing websites with the force of law behind them, including seeking the termination of advertising and payment services, whether the site is foreign or domestic.
Finally, even with its so-called “savings” clauses, the manager’s amendment will still risk placing unfeasible, court-ordered technology mandates on Internet service providers requiring websites to somehow prevent their services from being used to post infringing material, even if doing so is technically impossible. To avoid litigation, Internet companies will simply stop allowing uploading and file sharing all together.
That is the greatest danger of all. That, in the name of protecting copyright, this bill bring about the end of the Internet as we know it.
Censorship is never the solution. Internet piracy can be combated without a regime of suppression that threatens activities that are protected by the First Amendment. This will have a chilling effect on what is in effect cyber speech: on uploading, posting, and sharing files. That is the heart of the Internet, and it is being gutted by this legislation.
Even with the changes proposed by Smith, this bill will essentially criminalize the Internet, making it impossible to upload and share content. Any service that allows for storing files or posting hyperlinks could easily be targeted, and on the Internet, that’s everything.
In cyberspace, this is like trying to pass a law against breathing. Copyright can be protected on the Internet, but it will be done by adapting copyright law to the technology, not by outlawing the technology.
Bill Wilson is the President of Americans for Limited Government. You can follow Bill on Twitter at @BillWilsonALG.