Tech Firms Move to Stop the Stop Online Piracy Act

On the heels of  the Net Neutrality controversy, tech industry giants from Google to Facebook to Twitter are speaking out against the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill proposed by the U.S. House of Representatives, expanding the ability of U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. These companies are threatening to follow the footsteps of Yahoo who last month left the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the trade group supporting the legislation.

In essence, the bill would make Web companies liable for pirated content that appears on their sites, allowing the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as copyright holders, to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. Depending on who requests the court orders, the actions could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators such as PayPal from doing business with the infringing website; barring search engines from linking to such sites and requiring Internet service providers to block access to such sites. The bill would make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content a felony. The bill also gives immunity to Internet services that voluntarily take action against websites dedicated to infringement, while making liable for damages any copyright holder who knowingly misrepresents that a website is dedicated to infringement.

The bill is designed to address long-standing concerns from Hollywood studios, record labels and publishing houses, which lose $135 billion in revenues each year from piracy and counterfeiting, according to Chamber estimates. While most tech firms can agree that piracy is a problem, they believe the legislation goes too far by empowering law enforcement to shut down their operations if a copyrighted movie or song appeared on their site unauthorized. 

According to a Washington Post article, all 2,200 members of the Consumer Electronic Association are sending the same warning. Several human rights organizations, consumer advocates, civil liberties groups and more than 100 legal professors signed on to opposing letters as well, including Consumers Union, Reporters Without Borders and the American Civil Liberties Union.

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