By Peter Givler
Every time I see the acronyms SOPA and PIPA I think they should be characters in a Swedish children’s book, but in fact they are, respectively, the Stop Online Piracy Act (HR 3261) and the Protect IP Act (S 968), two bills in Congress with the aim of giving the Department of Justice tools to take action against offshore “rogue” websites — websites whose sole purpose is trafficking in pirated intellectual property. Think Pirate Bay.
The primary tool for doing so would be to put U.S. companies that do business with such websites — advertisers, credit card companies, etc. — on notice that they were facilitating online piracy, with the aim of drying up revenue and so eliminating the commercial motive for building and maintaining rogue websites. The bills have become the target of a spirited internet campaign seeking to block their passage over fears that they would stifle innovation and interfere with freedom of speech.
SOPA has been the primary target of this campaign, and its most controversial feature, domain name blocking for rogue websites, has now been withdrawn so that the issue can be further studied (see Lamar Smith link below). The White House weighed in on Saturday expressing the Administration’s concerns about the bills, while at the same time urging all parties to come together and seek a solution to the serious problem of offshore online piracy.
AAUP did not take a position on SOPA. Last December, with the Board’s approval, I did send a letter to Senators Reid, Schumer and Gillebrand supporting PIPA; the text of that letter has been distributed to the AAUP membership via e-mail.
To help AAUP members evaluate the controversy surrounding these bills here are links to the SOPA and PIPA bills themselves, to the White House statement, and to statements from Senator Leahy about PIPA, Representative Smith about SOPA, and from six Republican Senators urging Senator Reid to allow consideration of PIPA to go forward without a motion for cloture. (Cloture would not only limit the time for debate on the bill, but would also restrict consideration of amendments to those filed before cloture was invoked.)
Peter Givler is the Executive Director of the Association of American University Presses