A Line in the Sand

With seven million signatures, Google’s petition against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) is the most-signed petition ever to be sent to Congress.  In fact, it garnered almost seven times the number of signatures that were used to protest Obama’s health care bill.

In response to the public outcry over this legislation, 30 members of the House and 21 Senators came out in opposition to the bills within a 24-hour period.  While we are excited to see the discussion transform and the public’s voice heard, we recognize that this battle is far from over.   As revised legislation is proposed, conservatives must draw a line in the sand as to what absolutely should not be a part of any piece of compromise legislation.

With votes on both SOPA and PIPA now postponed and so-called “alternative” bills in the works, it is important that conservatives remain engaged and aware about the negative repercussions even amended versions of these bills could have for our economy.  We must avoid placing onerous, expensive regulations on technology companies that will pull resources away from growing businesses and instead, place those resources in the hands of lawyers and lobbyists who are charged with maintaining compliance with burdensome red tape.

In order to protect innovation, prevent undue regulation, and maintain the underlying structure and security of the Internet as well as the First Amendment rights of our citizens, we must ensure the following four items are not a part of any alternative legislation.

Private right to action: From a conservative perspective, one of the most troubling parts of both SOPA and PIPA was the so-called “private right of action” – a provision which would allow copyright holders, and eventually trial lawyers, to get a court order to shut down entire websites rather than simply removing infringing material.

Search engine liability and blocking requirements: Any potential bill cannot find companies like Twitter and Facebook, which host user-generated content, to be found culpable if a user posts illicit content.  Both SOPA and PIPA would have forced Internet Service Providers, search engines and other sites to police user-generated content—effectively killing social media.

Vigilante provisions:  The “vigilante” provision incentivizes search providers to censor content, putting legal pressure on them that would essentially force them to block innocent sites that receive any sort of complaint.  This greatly endangers innovation in the Internet space, as it only takes an accusation to shut down a competitor’s site – not a courtroom where evidence of infringement is given.  For many small businesses, their website is their front office.  A vigilante provision would too often close the doors of these growing businesses.

Expanded Attorney General Power:  SOPA and PIPA would give the federal government the power to unilaterally de-list websites from search engines and block specific domain names.  This is an unprecedented level of power that would be handed over to the unelected bureaucrats at the Department of Justice.  This cannot be allowed.