Coalition of tech, rights groups demand u-turn in copyright debate

By Stephen C. Webster
Tuesday, February 7, 2012 9:04 EDT
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A protester in France carries a pirate flag during a demonstration against ACTA. Photo: Flickr user Pierre-Selim.
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Should Congress mandate the disconnection of American citizens from the global communications infrastructure just because they download or link to copyrighted media?

A coalition of 70 groups, comprised of tech companies, human rights organizations, entrepreneurs and activists are saying no, banding together this week to amplify their voices with an open letter to lawmakers published Monday.

Coordinated by technology advocacy group Public Knowledge, the letter demands that Congress bring to an end its efforts to reform copyright laws through the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).

“Now is the time for Congress to take a breath, step back, and approach the issues from a fresh perspective,” they argue.

The signatories, which include groups like Democracy for America, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Reddit, O’Reilly Media, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Free Speech TV, Demand Progress and Mozilla, go on to argue that Congress must stop accepting content industry estimates of piracy and conduct their own studies.

“Finally, any future debates concerning intellectual property law in regards to the Internet must avoid taking a narrow, single-industry perspective,” they insist.

Instead of finding new ways to punish copyright offenders, they urge lawmakers to back away from the issue entirely and think of ways that current copyright law can be amended to repair loopholes that sometimes allow content creators to abuse their rights. Some of those abuses have related to companies using the law to crush potential competitors, stifle scientific and digital security research, and censor journalists.

“Too often, Congress has focused exclusively on areas where some rights holders believe existing law is too weak, without also considering the ways in which existing policies have undermined free speech and innovation,” the groups conclude. “Some examples include the year-long government seizure of a lawful music blog (dajaz1.com) and the shutdown by private litigation of a lawful startup video platform (veoh.com).”

Read the letter (PDF).

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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