Over the weekend, First Amendment impresario Floyd Abramsaddressed two controversial Internet piracy bills, the Senate’s Protect IP Act (PIPA) and the House version, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). He argued that the bill, designed to stop Internet theft of intellectual property, has been denounced by critics for setting up “ ‘walled gardens patrolled by government censors.’ Or derided as imparting ‘major features’ of ‘China’s Great Firewall’ to America. And accused of being ‘potentially politically repressive.’ ” He contends, “This is not serious criticism. The proposition that efforts to enforce the Copyright Act on the Internet amount to some sort of censorship, let alone Chinese-level censorship, is not merely fanciful. It trivializes the pain inflicted by actual censorship that occurs in repressive states throughout the world. Chinese dissidents do not yearn for freedom in order to download pirated movies.”
I don’t quarrel with his assertion that it is hysterical to regard enforcement of libel and copyright infringement on the Internet as the beginning of a totalitarian state. But he misses the real point of sober-minded critics: The bill is unnecessarily overbroad and a formula for a host of undesirable and unintended consequences.
ABC News reported last month on the overbroad nature of the remedies that would be available:
Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, said the bills would overdo it — giving copyright holders and government the power to cut off Web sites unreasonably. They could be shut down, and search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo could be stopped from linking to them.
“The solutions are draconian,” Schmidt said Tuesday at the MIT Sloan School of Management. “There’s a bill that would require ISPs [Internet service providers] to remove URLs from the Web, which is also known as censorship last time I checked.”