Lawmakers propose SOPA alternative: Fight online pirates ‘like WikiLeaks’

By Stephen C. Webster
Friday, December 2, 2011 13:28 EDT
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A pirate flag is raised above a ship. Photo: Flickr user bazylek100.
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A bipartisan group of lawmakers from the House and Senate are readying a draft proposal that would provide an alternative to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act.

Instead of using the courts to force search engines and ISPs to block websites accused of copyright infringement, as SOPA and Protect IP would, the alternative suggests simply cutting them off from all sources of funding, just like the banks did to WikiLeaks.

The lawmakers would accomplish this by regulating illegal downloads as a matter of international commerce. Doing so, the group of lawmakers hope to see the International Trade Commission (ITC) take charge of combating piracy, instead of judges. The ITC would be tasked with reviewing claims of online infringement against foreign website owners, ordering them cut off from funding if the claims prove true.

It would also set up a rapid-response mechanism for temporary disconnections from funding if an imminent harm can be demonstrated by a copyright holder, such as broadcasters who air live events that are being illegally streamed online.

“We think this is the correct way to approach policy,” Jennifer Hoelzer, deputy chief of staff to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), told Raw Story. “This really is an international trade issue. If someone downloads a movie off a foreign website, it’s similar to importing a DVD from a foreign company.”

And it’s not just Democrats who believe this route is better than the current piracy proposals in Congress: Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, feels the same way.

“As a former tech entrepreneur and patent holder, I know that innovation depends on strong intellectual property rights and robust enforcement tools,” Issa explained in a prepared statement. “SOPA, however, goes far beyond what is necessary to protect the rights of intellectual property owners from foreign rogue sites. It would put tremendous new regulatory and monitoring burdens on legitimate commerce in the digital space, leave the internet less secure and ultimately handicaps the policies that have allowed digital job creators to flourish.”

He called the group’s draft proposal for an alternative to stopping piracy, “a smarter solution that targets the actual criminals… by cutting off their funding like WikiLeaks.”

That’s a tactic which has been frightfully effective: since Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, Bank of America, Western Union and other financial institutions began refusing to deliver funds donated to WikiLeaks, the site has stopped publishing more leaks in order to focus on their continued survival as an organization. The situation has become so dire, founder Julian Assange said in October that WikiLeaks may not last beyond the turn of the year.

“There is already a process in place [to combat piracy],” Hoelzer explained. “Congress established the International Trade Commission to be the arbiter for international copyrights and what should not come into the United States. They are an independent body, a transparent body, that can make sure policy is applied in a consistent way. They’re also beholden to Congress, so we can ensure the laws we write are going to be interpreted as we intend them to, which is much different than the fragmented process [under SOPA] with magistrate judges.”

By using the ITC, she said the alternative anti-piracy proposals sidestep entirely the problems of ordering search engines and Internet service providers to block websites, and erases potential burdens to small businesses that may unknowingly link to sites engaged with online infringement. By preventing media pirates from raking in money from Internet advertising, they hope to eliminate the incentive to engage in copyright infringement without disrupting the freedom or fabric of the Internet.

“We think, if we can dry up the money stream, that will take away all the incentive for what the worst of the worst are doing,” Hoelzer said.

A draft of the alternative anti-piracy legislation is expected sometime next week. It is co-authored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Mark Warner (D-VA), along with Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO), Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Darrell Issa (R-CA), John Campbell (R-CA), Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA).

A copy of the draft framework for discussion follows.


Fighting the Unauthorized Trade of Digital Goods While Protecting Internet Security, Commerce and Speech

Photo: Flickr user bazylek100.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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