Two related bills in the US Congress are generating furious debate, yet again, on the responsibilities of intermediaries in the online environment. To what extent should the provider of a service that enables dissemination of content confine the service to legitimate content? To what extent can they turn a blind eye to the use of the service for unauthorised content? The issue is not new, but has increasing urgency in the online world, where dissemination of content is so rapid and far-reaching.
The bills are referred to as SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act). The SOPA bill was introduced into the House of Representatives in October 2011; the PIPA bill is similar, and was introduced into the Senate earlier in 2011.
The bills are primarily concerned with blocking access to infringing content and counterfeit goods on foreign ‘rogue’ websites. Apart from the websites, they also affect other businesses that link to, or provide services to those sites, such as internet search engines, payment network providers, and Internet advertising services.
Those opposing the bills argue, amongst other things, that the legislation would unfairly penalise proprietors of websites whose primary aim is something other than the dissemination of unauthorised content (in particular, sites that enable the upload of user-generated content), and the users of those sites.
There is a useful summary of each bill (as at 20 January), the criticisms of the bills and the counter-arguments here.
The SOPA bill is being reviewed by the House Judiciary Committee, which has postponed further consideration ‘until there is wider agreement on a solution’. Consideration of the PIPA bill has been similarly postponed.
So what do we think about this? Intermediaries need to take more responsibility than they currently do for inhibiting the dissemination of unauthorised content through the use of their services. We acknowledge concerns about issues such as penalising legitimate users of the services, privacy and due process. But we think that there are solutions that can target unauthorised content in ways that are effective, fair and transparent.
SOPA explained: What it is and why it matters
If you critique SOPA, read the text. If you read the text, read it right
SOPA and PIPA Bills: Online Companies Win Piracy Fight
White House response to petitions opposing the SOPA bill
President Obama on debate over the SOPA
SOPA and PIPA postponed indefinitely after protests
– Post by Libby Baulch, Copyright Agency