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Sony leak reveals efforts to revive SOPA

Working in Washington, D.C. tends to make one a bit jaded: the revolving door, the bipartisan attacks, not enough funding for libraries — the list goes on. So, yes, I am D.C.-weary and growing more cynical. Now I have another reason to be fed up.

The Sony Pictures Entertainment data breach has uncovered documents that show that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has been trying to pull a fast one —reviving the ill-conceived Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) legislation (that failed spectacularly in 2010) by apparently working in tandem with state Attorneys General. Documents show that MPAA has been devising a scheme to get the result they could not get with SOPA—shutting down web sites and along with them freedom of expression and access to information.

Sony Pictures studio.
Sony Pictures studio.

The details have been covered by a number of media outlets, including The New York Times. The MPAA seems to think that the best solution to shutting down piracy is “make invisible” the web sites of suspected culprits. You may think that libraries have little to worry about; after all we aren’t pirates. But the good guys will be yanked offline, as well as the alleged bad guys. Our provision of public access to the internet would then be in jeopardy because a few library users that allegedly posted protected content on, for example, Pinterest or YouTube. Our protection from liability for the activities of library patrons using public computers could be thrown out the window along with internet access. This makes no sense.

SOPA, touted initially by Congress as a solution to online piracy, also made no sense from the start because it was too broad. If passed, it would have required that libraries police the internet and block web sites whenever asked by law enforcement officials. Technical experts confirmed that the implementation of SOPA could threaten cybersecurity and undermine the Domain Name System (DNS), also known as the very “backbone of the Internet.”

After historically overwhelming public outcry the content community and internet supporters were encouraged to work together on a compromise, parties promised to collaborate, and some work was actually accomplished. Now it seems that, as far as MPAA was concerned, collaboration was just hype. They were, the leaked documents show, planning all along to get SOPA one way or another.

The library community opposes piracy. But we also oppose throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Update: The Verge has reported that Mississippi Attorney General Hood did indeed launch his promised attack on behalf of the MPAA by serving Google with a 79-page subpoena charging that Google engaged in “deceptive” or “unfair” trade practice under the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act. Google has filed a brief asking the federal court to set aside the subpoena and noting that Mississippi (or any state for that matter) has no jurisdiction over these matters.

For more on efforts to revive SOPA, see this post as well.

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Carrie Russell

Carrie Russell is the director of the Program on Public Access to Information in the Washington Office. Her portfolio includes copyright, international copyright, accessibility, e-books, and other public policy issues. She has an MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and an MA in media arts from the University of Arizona.

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