Congressional lawmakers recently introduced a bill that would significantly expand the power of the federal government to regulate content on the Internet. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), currently making its way through the House of Representatives, would allow effectively allow the Department of Justice to block U.S. Internet users from accessing websites that violate domestic copyright law.
The bill would allow the Attorney General to seek a court order to demand that “foreign infringing websites” refrain from violating U.S. copyright law. The bill also gives the Justice Department the power to compel third parties within the U.S. to end involvement with infringing websites. That includes the power to compel Internet Service Providers (ISPs) “to prevent access by its subscribers located within the United States to the foreign infringing site,” prevent search engines from listing a direct link, and prevent ad services from advertising on websites seen as rogue. If the bill is passed, it could mean that websites such as The Pirate Bay, a file sharing site, could be inaccessible within the United States.
The bill has the backing of a number of entertainment industry groups, notably the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Musicians (AFM).
“This legislation, a companion bill to the PROTECT IP Act currently in the Senate, will provide U.S. law enforcement agencies with the tools to protect American intellectual property, including the films, television shows and sound recordings created by our members, from foreign rogue websites that knowingly and deliberately engage in the illegal distribution of our content for profit,” said several entertainment unions in a joint press-release that included the groups previously mentioned and even the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT).
While the bill has garnered the support of Hollywood and the music industry, many groups have come out against the bill, criticizing it as a form of censorship.
Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif), whose district includes Silicon Valley, told CNET “this would mean the end of the Internet as we know it.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation feared the bill threatens websites used for whistle blowing and anonymity of political activists in repressive countries.
“Platforms created to provide anonymity software to human rights activists across the world, as well as next generation WikiLeaks-style whistleblower sites, could be major casualties of this bill — all in the name of increasing Hollywood’s bottom line,” the Foundation said on its website.
“As leading brands of the Internet, we strongly oppose offshore ‘rogue’ websites and share policymakers’ goal of combating online infringement of copyrights and trademarks,” Markham Erickson, executive director of NetCoalition, which includes Google, Yahoo and Bloomberg, told The Hill. “However, we do not believe that the solution lies in regulating the Internet and comprising its stability and security.”
“I think it’s blatant censorship from a country that has always looked down on other countries that partake in such activities,” third-year Jack Rogers, who is a computer science AOC, said.
Recent statements by Vice President Joe Biden appear counterposed to the potential effects of SOPA. Biden, along with British Prime Minister David Cameron, condemned Internet censorship by other nations during a conference held on Nov. 1. Biden criticized “national barriers on the free flow of information online.”
“This in our view would lead to a fragmented Internet,” Biden said.
New College has been affected by past attempts by the entertainment industry to prevent copyright infringement on the Internet. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) forces the college to prevent individuals from violating copyright law on their network.
To comply with copyright law, the school must take down or block access to infringing material. While the college may be liable if they do not work to prevent copyright infringement, the individual infringer may be liable up to $150,000 and could face 10 years in prison. In the regulations manual, New College strictly prohibits all intellectual property infringement, including music, games and movies.
“Users who violate this policy are subject to disciplinary action in accordance with the
Student Code of Conduct and the New College Employee Handbook,” the manual states. “Such disciplinary action may include termination, expulsion and other legal actions.”
More recent legislation that compels action from the school is the Higher Education Opportunity Act.
The school must come up with “a plan to ‘effectively combat the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials’ by users of its network, including ‘the use of one or more technology-based deterrents’” and “a plan to ‘offer alternatives to illegal downloading.’”
The policy also states: “While New College does not generally monitor or limit content of information transmitted on the campus network, it reserves the right to monitor its computer systems, networks and storage media for compliance with this policy, at any time, without notice. Additionally, the College reserves the right to delete from its computer systems and storage media, or restrict access to, any seemingly unauthorized copies of copyrighted materials it may find, at any time.”