“I have always stood by artists, and it is for this reason that I want to see the Stop Online Piracy Act become law. The bill is of vital importance to protecting American jobs and artisans, protecting the American consumers from dangerous counterfeits, and ensuring the very vitality of American culture,” said U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan and ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee in a statement during a recent House Judiciary Committee regarding H.R. 3261, the “Stop Online Piracy Act.”
The Act, which has recently been introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives, has received the support of many organizations and those specifically dedicated to ensuring that the rights of owners of intellectual property are protected online, as many continue to decry the pervasive stealing of copyrighted work for profit, especially by foreign Internet companies. However, the intellectual property at stake doesn’t appear to be limited to copyrighted music and movies, but also trademarked medicines and drugs that are pirated online.
According to the House’s Judiciary Committee, the bill’s purpose is multifold:
“The Stop Online Piracy Act (H.R. 3261) builds on the Pro IP Act of 2008 and the Senate’s Protect IP Act introduced earlier this year. The bill modernizes our criminal and civil statutes to meet new IP enforcement challenges and protect American jobs. The proposal reflects a bipartisan and bicameral commitment toward ensuring that law enforcement and job creators have the necessary tools to protect American intellectual property from counterfeiting and piracy.”
“Specifically, H.R. 3261 allows the Attorney General to seek injunctions against foreign websites that steal and sell American innovations and products. The bill increases criminal penalties for individuals who traffic in counterfeit medicine and military goods, which put innocent civilians and American soldiers at risk. And it improves coordination between IP enforcement agencies in the U.S.,” states information from the Committee on Judiciary’s website, where a recorded stream of the hearing is available.
At the hearing the remarks by Committee members and the testimony of several witnesses, highlighted support, and alternatively, concerns some had with the new legislation.
Many have held the bill would protect creative industries that comprise a significant portion of the nation’s economy, while others have maintained that the bill would threaten the First Amendment and “kill the Internet” -something that Conyers addressed in his remarks at the hearing and constitutional law scholar Floyd Abrams frontally addressed in a letter to Conyers and House Judiciary Chairman U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas.
“The notion that adopting legislation to combat the theft of intellectual property on the Internet threatens freedom of expression and would facilitate, as one member of the House of Representatives recently put it, ‘the end of the Internet as we know it,’ is thus insupportable. Copyright violations have never been protected by the First Amendment and have been routinely punished wherever they occur, including the Internet. This proposed legislation is not inconsistent with the First Amendment; it would protect creators of speech, as Congress has done since this Nation was founded, by combating its theft,” he wrote.
As underscored in a previous BBSJ post, it would appear that minority content creators who are owners of copyrights, particularly those working in the music industry, would benefit from legislation that would curb online copyright infringement. Most significantly, it seems that they would better capture profits from their work – something that has historically been a challenge especially to African American artists — without the added burden of policing infringers.
Among the growing swell of those who support the Stop Online Piracy Act, “securing profits” seems to be a general desire, as explained by U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, D-North Carolina, ranking member of the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet of Judiciary Committee, at the hearing.
“…To be fair, many of the trademark and copyright owners who want this bill to help enforce their rights are also businesses and are also motivated by money. But in my mind, stopping theft of your work or products, is an appropriate incentive to secure profits. But doing nothing or next to nothing to prevent theft, through the use of tools a company creates or controls, is not an appropriate incentive to secure profits. So as policy makers our goal must be to confront the criminal enterprises that are flourishing on the internet, stealing from the right holders and visiting untold harms on consumers. Doing nothing is not an option,” said Watt at the hearing.
- Kenneth Mallory is an award-winning journalist and attorney who has free-lanced for several publications, in addition to serving as a general assignment reporter for the Washington Afro-American Newspaper. He earned his B.A. magna cum laude from University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in addition to his J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law.