A group of Internet and intellectual property law professors have penned a letter to congressional lawmakers in opposition to the Protect IP Act, which would give the government sweeping new powers to take websites offline, censor search engines and sue Internet publishers accused of infringing activities.
In the letter, they warn that the act would “undermine” U.S. leadership on freedom of speech issues, cautioning that provisions within the legislation are more closely aligned with “repressive regimes” than the traditional American stance on Internet freedom.
They also predict that the Protect IP Act would threaten the security of the Internet at large, as it would give U.S. officials the authority to literally break the Internet’s domain name system (DNS), which links servers to web domains for easy access to pages around the world.
The bill, sponsored and heavily promoted by the entertainment industries, would require Internet service providers and search engines to de-list whole domains on the basis of a copyright claim by a content provider. The claim does not have to be proven to an independent body for a site to be taken offline.
Sites that link to domains accused of hosting infringing activities could also be targeted for domain take-downs or other criminal penalties, and servers outside the U.S. are not exempt from the powers the Protect IP Act seeks to cement into law.
Because of the Internet’s highly interwoven archetecture, the bill’s broad language would “make it extraordinarily difficult for advertisers and credit card companies to do business on the Internet,” the laywers warned.
That point was echoed by Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, who said in May that the search giant would fight any order to break the Internet’s addressing system over copyright claims.
The lawyers also suggested that removing websites without so much as a hearing conflicts with standing constitutional law as interperted by the Supreme Court, cautioning that the act would undermine America’s defense of free speech and “dramatically reduce” the Internet’s usefulness in mass communications.
“At a time when many foreign governments have dramatically stepped up their efforts to censor Internet communications, the [Protect IP Act] would incorporate into U.S. law — for the first time — a principle more closely associated with those repressive regimes: a right to insist on the removal of content from the global Internet, regardless of where it may have originated or be located, in service of the exigencies of domestic law.”
The letter was signed by Professor Mark Lemley of Stanford University, David S. Levine of Elon University and David G. Post of Temple University.
The Protect IP Act, proposed by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), is currently on hold in the U.S. Senate thanks to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who placed a freeze on it in May.
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