There’s a bill headed through congress right now, in both the house and the Senate, that threatens the entire Internet. The bill, called “Protect IP” in the Senate, and “SOPA” in the house, would give the attorney general the power to shut down websites that rightsholders claim infringe upon content. The AG would get a court order, and the website would essentially be black listed. The DNS system, which is what allows the Internet to function, would be re-written to hide infringing sites, and credit card processing companies could be held liable for doing business with them.
This is a terrible idea for a variety of reasons. As Internet law stands in this country right now, content owners have to issue what are called take-down notices to websites that host content illegally. The websites then have to remove the content. There have been documented cases (against Time Warner in particular) of content owners requesting takedowns of content that they don’t actually own. This would only get worse if rightsholders have the ability to sue to shut down a website. In addition, tinkering with the DNS system threatens to upend the way Internet security against actual hackers and spammers works, and wouldn’t even hide the infringing websites from people who actually know how to look.
This bill would also hold credit card processing companies and others liable for continuing to do business with infringing sites. This has the potential to kill off start up businesses faster than an IP lawyer can say “Achoo,” and threatens the entire way the Internet ecosystem has sparked and driven innovation.
This bill threatens the way the Internet functions. Clearly something needs to be done to protect intellectual property on the Internet, but as Netflix and iTunes’ success demonstrates, sometimes the easiest way is providing a service that gives people what they want for a price.