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What’s in a name? So-called anti-piracy copyright legislation

Ok, more like what’s in an acronym (and what the heck does it mean)?  The latest round of legislation thinly cloaked under a veil of copyright was supposedly crafted to squelch online piracy.  Here’s what we’ve got — The PROTECT IP Act or PIPA bill (S. 968) in the U.S. Senate and the recently introduced companion SOPA or E-PARASITE bill (H. 1362) in the U. S. House of Representatives.

Ok, so you ask, what do these bills actually mean?

First introduced in the U.S. Senate in May was S. 968, “The Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011” or PROTECT IP Act of 2011 or PIPA (not to be confused with the famous sister-in-law across the pond).  Senators Leahy (D-VT), Hatch (R-UT) and Grassley (R-IA) introduced the bill intending to crack down on rogue websites dedicated to the sale of infringing counterfeit goods.  The library community’s specific concern with this bill is its potential impact on first amendment rights.  The ALA joined other organizations and sent a letter (pdf) to Senate leadership  stating, as currently drafted “…S. 968 makes nearly every actor on the Internet potentially subject to enforcement orders under the bill, raising new policy questions regarding government interference with online activity and speech.“

An even more egregious bill was introduced in the U.S. House by Reps. Smith (R-VA), Conyers (D-MI), Goodlatte (R-VA) and Berman (D-CA) in late October — H.R. 3261, “The Stop Online Piracy Act” or SOPA, also known as the “Enforcing and Protecting American Rights Against sites Intent on Theft and Exploitation” or E-PARASITE bill (uh, gross). This bill makes the Senate version (S. 968) pale in comparison — it’s that bad.  A myriad of concerns have been raised and strike at privacy, intellectual freedom and cyber security, among others.

The ALA, as part of the Library Copyright Alliance (which includes ACRL and ARL) sent a letter (pdf) to the House leadership raising specific copyright-related concerns on behalf of libraries.  In the letter we raise two key concerns:

  1. The bill would change the scope of “willful infringement” with the potential to capture what the courts would have previously determined as innocent infringement— raising the stakes of statutory damages sought up to $150,000 per work.
  2. In addition, the bill would impose criminal sanctions for public performances including streaming.  Public performances would include digital works transmitted to classrooms, including those at a distance, and even those of a non-commercial nature.

Ultimately, this bill brings into the realm of possibility the criminal prosecution of a library for streaming or public performances for educational purposes (yikes!).

But wait, there’s more! On the heels of being introduced in late October, the SOPA/E-PARASITE bill is slated to be the subject of a House Judiciary Committee hearing on November 16, 2011.

In sum, one might deduce that the more troublesome a bill, the more ridiculous names and acronyms are piled on.

Want to see concerns raised by others? Check out the following letters and responses:

The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) has conveniently compiled in one place letters to Congress, testimony, blog posts, etc., from those expressing opposition to SOPA.

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Corey Williams

Corey Williams is a former member of the Washington Office government relations team.

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