Bill infringes some rights to protect others

Freedom New Mexico

Reason and prudence are needed to untangle the digital-age Gordian knots posed by Internet technology. Unfortunately, Congress can be short of reason and prudence.

A bill to protect online property rights of owners’ copyrighted material sailed through the Senate Judiciary Committee this month, 19-0. We urge the Senate to rethink this approach, which critics liken to burning down the house to roast the pig.

Producers of digital products, such as Hollywood movie studios, are at increasing risk of their property being pirated and distributed on the Internet, costing them millions of dollars in lost revenue.

Let us be clear. We’re unwavering supporters of intellectual property rights. That said, let us also be clear in condemning this bill, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, which would infringe on other cherished rights, including the rights to freedom of speech and due process. There must be a better solution than this ham-fisted legislative approach.

The bill would protect online copyrighted material by targeting file-sharing websites that have “no demonstrable, commercially significant purpose or use other than” providing access without authorization to material protected by federal copyright laws.

The bill would allow the Justice Department to seek expedited court orders to force U.S. domain-name registrars to shut down domestic websites suspected of hosting infringing materials. The bill also would permit similar court action to order U.S. Internet service providers to divert customer traffic away from infringing foreign websites.

Critics say the bill grants too broad authority and would extend its effects to third parties who aren’t involved in copyright infringement. Moreover, as structured, the new law would impose its Draconian solutions “without any meaningful opportunity for any party to contest” the government’s allegations, according to a public letter signed by numerous law professors from universities. The act “would also suppress vast amounts of protected speech containing no infringing content,” the letter says.

The bill also has drawn opposition from across the political spectrum, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital-rights group, and assorted conservative bloggers. However, in the Senate there are at least 11 co-sponsors.

PCWorld.com, the website of a consumer computer magazine, has reported that Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., announced his opposition to the bill in its current form, which the online publication said, “means the bill is likely dead this year” because “individual senators can place holds on legislation,” and the lame-duck session is winding down.

We hope before making a bad situation worse, Wyden and other reasoned, prudent senators in the coming year give more sober deliberation that can lead to balancing all stakeholders’ rights.