Testifying today before the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives, Google's copyright counsel, Katherine Oyama, made a number of useful observations about the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (H.R. 3261). For example, she claimed that the bill could require U.S. Internet and technology companies to monitor Web sites and social media for infringing content.
It would make no sense to make companies like AOL, eBay, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Twitter, Yahoo! and Zynga responsible for the content that their customers link to or post on the Web. On the other hand, it would also not make sense for these companies to remain free to ignore obvious copyright infringement. Say the owner of a copyright notifies these companies about infringing material, and the companies remove it but then it is immediately re-posted by a user? Can't a copyright owner get some help at that point? Some reasonable "best efforts" help, not strict liability. In fairness, this type of help is probably already available on a voluntary basis, to some extent.
These companies provide valuable services that are primarily used for non-infringing purposes. They do not need pirates. They support SOPA's stated goal of providing additional enforcement tools to combat foreign rogue websites that are dedicated to copyright infringement and counterfeiting, according to Oyama. These companies have awesome capabilities, but obviously they cannot single-handedly prevent their customers from violating intellectual property laws. Nor have they sought to evade any responsibility for doing so, for the most part.
But we have a real problem here, as I have discussed here and here. House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) has cited estimates that IP theft costs the U.S. economy more than $100 billion annually and results in the loss of thousands of American jobs. We have got to do something about this.
By all means let's debate the wording of the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act. Let us establish realistic and practicable obligations and liabilities. But the basic idea that all of the key players in the Internet ecosystem -- including advertising services, domain name servers, search engines, payment network providers, etc. -- have a legitimate and necessary role to play seems beyond dispute. And as technology advances, so do the reasonable capabilities of each of these players.