Play Fair and Share

David Byrd : Byrd's Eye View
David Byrd
Chief Marketing Officer for ANPI

Play Fair and Share

One of the early lessons we learn as children is to play fair and share with others. For most of my life this was a useful phrase. However, with the advent of the Internet and the ability to share copyrighted content with anyone connected to the net, sharing has become a major issue. When I first learned of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), I knew I would be opposed to their provisions. Yes, even without reading the Acts, I was siding with the opposition. Nothing comes out of Congress without flaws and whenever Congress addresses how to restrict the actions of the American people, they overreach. It is their nature. To their credit they did respond to the protests by Wikipedia and others by delaying approval for both SOPA and PIPA. I have now read the basics of the two Acts and am ready to respond with some substantive comments.

SOPA, the House developed solution, is the most broad Act defining a bad foreign site as one that is "committing or facilitating" copyright infringement. This would apply to almost any website that has a file sharing capability as one of its features or services. PIPI narrows the definition of an offending site to one that has “no significant use other than" copyright infringement. The latter appears to be better but I remain concerned with the remedies included in the Acts. Originally, both bills allowed the U.S. Department of Justice to seek court orders forcing service providers to block the domain names of infringing sites although if you knew the actual IP address, the site was still available. This was dropped as more reasonable people read the drafts.

However, it is the matter of definition and enforcement that give me pause. When other businesses such as payment processers or ad networks are allowed to cut off funding without the potentially offending site being charged with anything, too much power has been extended to too broad an array of people. It is neither responsible nor appropriate to engage private enterprise to charge, judge and apply penalties. It is appropriate to give the U.S. Department of Justice and copyright holders the right to seek justice in foreign courts and an ability to escalate actions if the foreign courts unjustly protect a site whose sole purpose is to support the evasion of copyright law.

Over the last few days I have learned of a multitude of file sharing sites including Megaupload, built to share entertainment media, which was shut down this week. However, keep in mind a site we use at Broadvox, Dropbox, could be used for a similar purpose by a few users. Would it then be appropriate for a foreign country to block access to all users due to the actions of a minority? Is it the responsibility of Dropbox to monitor the proprietary business content shared on their site? Consider that we do not expect the makers of PCs to monitor how we use them. We do not expect automobile manufacturers to restrict how we drive our cars. We are asked to be law abiding and when an individual breaks the law, he/she should be prosecuted and, if found guilty, punished appropriately.

Protecting our freedoms is not easy but it is a must. Protecting intellectual property is important. Promoting innovation and entrepreneurship utilizing IP Communications is also important. Legislation addressing content piracy must not be driven by the large media companies to the detriment of us utilizing services that improve the way we work and share information. That, of course, is a hard concept for Congress to understand, after all money talks most loudly in Washington.

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