Showdowns are likely in the Senate and House of Representatives later this month on legislation combating online piracy. The House Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on the Stop Online Privacy Act, H.R. 3261 (SOPA), and the full Senate on the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act, S. 968 (Protect IP Act). These measures have generated some overheated rhetoric.
A recent column in Roll Call by Stephen DeMaura and David Segal, entitled "All Candidates Should Be Concerned About SOPA," for example, suggests that SOPA could be exploited by political opponents to restrict free speech.
Here's a plausible campaign scenario under SOPA. Imagine you are running for Congress in a competitive House district. You give a strong interview to a local morning news show and your campaign posts the clip on your website. When your opponent's campaign sees the video, it decides to play hardball and sends a notice to your Internet service provider alerting them to what it deems "infringing content." It doesn't matter if the content is actually pirated. The ISP has five days to pull down your website and the offending clip or be sued. If you don't take the video down, even if you believe that the content is protected under fair use, your website goes dark.Another recent column in Politico by Tim Mak entitled "Bloggers: SOPA's the end of us" makes a similar claim and implies a tidal wave of opposition is forming (we shall see).
The conservative and liberal blogospheres are unifying behind opposition to Congress's Stop Online Piracy Act, with right-leaning bloggers arguing their very existence could be wiped out if the anti-piracy bill passes.There is no way these bills would permit an opposing campaign or campaign committee to pull down websites harboring "infringing content," nor would they authorize censorship of lawful speech.