To the Editor:
(New York 23rd Congressional) The government has an important role in protecting intellectual property rights, but never at the cost of our basic freedoms.
A new piece of legislation introduced in Congress called the Stop Online Piracy Act would give overly broad powers to the U.S. Justice Department to police the Internet. This bill is a bad deal. It would censor the Internet, stifle start-ups and undermine security without actually solving the problem.
Our government is targeting foreign-based pirates, who use the Internet to sell counterfeit goods. Those goods can be physical – such as pharmaceuticals or blue jeans – or digital, like movies and music.
The Piracy Act would not have the power to take down these rogue websites, since they are based overseas. Instead, the government would put the hammer down by forbidding Internet providers to allow their users to connect to these sites. Unfortunately, this kind of hammer is more like a nuclear weapon – devastating in the collateral damage it would create.
Supporters of this bill – including our current congressman, Bill Owens – see it as a way to end piracy. I see it as an avenue for government and corporate censorship.
The bill’s broad language would effectively allow a copyright holder to order a website blocked over a single offense. This would be like cutting off access to YouTube because the world’s next Justin Bieber uploaded a video of himself singing a copyrighted song.
The Piracy Act would also forbid search engines such as Google to link to these rogue websites – or face shutdown themselves. The bill’s proposal to use filters to limit access to the offending sites also introduces the possibility that an innocent site with a similar name could be blocked, as well.
This would kill commerce.
Imagine a start-up that has the potential to be the next big thing on the Internet. If SOPA became law, who would be willing to risk investing in a site that a potential competitor would have the power to effectively block?
Besides commerce and censorship concerns, I see major problems with changing the fundamental way we use the Internet.
The bill would block sites by destroying a basic function of the Internet: the connection between the domain name we enter, like Yahoo.com, and its IP address. That’s like the government trying to make sure no one could call you by taking your name out of every phone book.
If we allow a break between the domain we enter and the IP address, then we threaten the whole encryption system that is essential to conducting sensitive business online, such as banking.
This would also kill commerce.
Second, pirates are savvy people. If Internet users are looking for a way to access the site, the pirates will help them find it. The “fix,” however, may be to use a less secure server elsewhere. This increases the risk of identity theft and could help the spread of malicious viruses, which would lessen overall confidence in the Internet.
My opponent is wrongly co-sponsoring this bill. As an alternative, I would support legislation that concentrated more on limiting a rogue site’s ability to profit from pirated goods and less on breaking the way the Internet works and hurting innocent sites.
I want to stop the theft of intellectual property, not stop online commerce. We can find a better way than this deeply flawed bill.
Matt Doheny, Watertown