We’ve been reporting on the Motion Picture Association’s ongoing battle against online piracy, and the misgivings of many internet experts, entertainment experts, and even the average citizen. But, this report has some good news about the censorship issues, and it isn’t another route around the censorship.
The European Parliament adopted a resolution earlier this month condemning the proposed law in U.S. Congress, SOPA. (The Stop Online Piracy Act.) This legislation, if passed, would allow U.S. agencies to take down and seize domains with just a warrant, if it is deemed to be facilitating copyright infringement. Critics of the law say that the U.S. government would be able to remove a site, regardless of the location of the host, if the site can somehow be shown to be connected to or managed by a U.S. company.
These seizures would be international, as a round of seizures earlier this year showed. The Spanish website, Rojadirecta, was seized by the Federal government in spite of the fact that 2 courts in Spain declared the site to be legal and in compliance with their laws. Presently the sites owners, Puerto 80, is in lawsuit against the Federal government to get their site back. They have reported losses that total in the thousands of dollars since the site was taken over.
Not only is seizing websites outside of the U.S. jurisdiction a large part pf the issue with the proposed law, but opponents are also claiming that the language that defines an infringing website is rather vague. Critics claim the defining qualifiers for determining if a site is infringing are so wide ranging that virtually every website hosted anywhere in the world would be under the U.S. jurisdiction. Therefore almost every website on the internet would come under fire.
If the legislation is passed, and does get signed into law, it could conceivably threaten many websites that aren’t normally even considered to be a copyright infringement threat. Sites like YouTube, Etsy, and Flikr would be potential targets. The MPAA and RIAA have already make statements to the fact that Vkontakte, a Russian social networking site, and a Chinese website, Xunlei, a media website, are potential take-downs.
Whether or not the sites are actively engaging or harboring pirated material, the sheer scope of having to screen every site by hand is an insurmountable task. Not to mention all the jobs, a precious commodity in today’s economy, that would be lost. Just the 2 websites, VKontakt and Xunlei, employ thousands of people globally. Both had made public statements as to their intent of making public offerings on the U.S. Stock exchange before the MPAA and RIAA announcement of their intent.
In the last few years the U.S. has used their power, and the fact that much of the infrastructure of the internet and related businesses falls under their jurisdiction, to impose sanctions and stifle companies that should be outside of U.S. jurisdiction. The European Parliament is forwarding their resolution to the European Commission, and the U.S. legislators. We can only hope that other countries outside of the European community join in the resolution.