Web Companies Warn Anti-Piracy Proposal Threatens Innovation

A coalition of Web companies including AOL, Google, Mozilla and Zynga are warning lawmakers that anti-piracy proposals in the House and Senate would jeopardize “law-abiding U.S. Internet and technology companies.”

“We are concerned that these measures pose a serious risk to our industry's continued track record of innovation and job-creation, as well as to our nation's cybersecurity,” the companies said in a letter to lawmakers sent Tuesday, on the eve of a House Judiciary committee hearing. Other companies to sign the letter were eBay, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Yahoo.

The House Stop Online Piracy Act, and Senate PROTECT IP Act, would give copyright owners new ammunition against so-called “rogue” sites, defined as sites dedicated to infringement. Among other provisions, the bills provide for court orders banning ad networks and payment processors from doing business with rogue sites, and for orders forcing search engines to stop returning certain results. The measures also enable the government to obtain orders prohibiting Internet service providers from putting through traffic to certain URLs -- though Web users could still reach the sites by typing in their numerical addresses.

Hollywood backs the bills, arguing that the measures are necessary to combat piracy -- especially by sites that are otherwise outside the jurisdiction of the U.S.

 But many Web companies oppose the measures. Those signing Tuesday's letter argue that the bills could undermine the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's safe harbor provisions. The safe harbors generally say that Web companies are immune from liability for infringement by users, provided the companies take down any pirated material at the request of the copyright owner. Those safe harbors are the reason why YouTube prevailed in a copyright lawsuit brought by Viacom, which complained that users had uploaded infringing clips. The proposed bills, however, could require Web companies to take a more active role in policing sites for piracy by users.

Tech companies aren't the only ones opposing the anti-piracy bills. Groups like Reporters Without Borders and the Electronic Frontier Foundation also argue that the proposals could gut the DMCA's safe harbors. The organizations also take issue with the idea that the government could ban companies from putting through traffic to specific URLs. They point out that the Chinese government uses Domain Name System filtering in order to prevent people from accessing censored sites. “By instituting this practice in the United States, SOPA sends an unequivocal message to other nations that it is acceptable to censor speech on the global Internet,” the groups write.

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