FOR TOO long, the solution to Internet piracy has been to “round up the usual suspects.’’ While the US economy loses billions because of copyright infringement every year, it seems the only people held responsible are stray hackers and unlucky college students who downloaded one song too many from their dorm room.
The Stop Online Piracy Act currently before Congress would finally give law enforcement the tools to crack down on the websites that enable Internet piracy. Currently, one can use Google to quickly jump to a site that offers pirated HBO shows or bootlegs of the latest hit album, or go on YouTube and watch television shows or music videos uploaded illegally, actions for which neither website faces repercussions. (YouTube has a policy against posting pirated material, but no legal obligation to police its site.)
If passed, the anti-piracy legislation would impose real consequences on companies that make it easy to access pirated content. The government could order search engines and Internet service providers to block access to sites that illegally infringe upon intellectual property. Instead of trying to track down each individual user, the Justice Department would have the necessary tools to go after the websites that enable this intellectual property theft.
While opponents of the bill cry censorship, their fears seem to based on the belief that it somehow creates a slippery slope - that blocking an illegal download of an Adele album will be logically followed by blocking a search for information about the Arab Spring. The government already has cracked down on online child pornography without a corresponding attack on civil liberties. There’s no reason that the First Amendment would be endangered if the Justice Department beefed up its enforcement of copyright law as well.
Free speech and fair use can co-exist. While the anti-piracy bill still needs further refinement to ensure that its legal wording precisely matches its legislative intent, online piracy is a major problem that imposes real economic costs. Congress needs to take action to protect American jobs from piracy. Although the proposed legislation may be imperfect, it is a strong and decisive step in the right direction.