MPAA Defends Web Censorship Legislation

MPAA Defends Web Censorship Legislation

Interim MPAA head Bob Pisano says the First Amendment “was not intended as a shield for those who steal, irrespective of the means,” but ignores the fact that entire sites, not just infringing material, would be censored, and that it would create no new overseas revenue, merely reshuffling the dollars users of “rogue sites” currently spend elsewhere.

Today the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) is scheduled for consideration by Congress’ Committee on the Judiciary and the MPAA, right on cue, is trying to brush aside the concerns of the Bill’s critics.

First proposed back in September, the COICA would give the Department of Justice an “expedited process” for cracking down on websites that illegally make copyrighted material available, including the ability to “prevent the importation into the United States of goods and services offered by an Internet site dedicated to infringing activities.”

The Bill’s authors believe it would finally give the Dept of Justice the tools it needs to track and shut down “websites devoted to providing access to unauthorized downloads, streaming or sale of copyrighted content and counterfeit goods.”

Interim MPAA head Bob Pisano wrote an op-ed recently in advance of the current committee debate emphasizing what he believes are the harmful economic effects “rogue sites” have on the American economy.

He says they ” exist for one purpose only:  to make a profit using the Internet to distribute the stolen and counterfeited goods and ideas of others,” and that the “economic impact of these activities — millions of lost jobs and dollars — is profound.”

But, this is hardly the case. Sure some illicit sites do earn a profit from the illegal distribution of counterfeit goods or “stolen ideas” (not sure what this means), but a large number of sites that the MPAA labels “rogue” or “notorious” do not. A little over a week ago the MPAA submitted a list of “notorious sites” to the Office of the US Trade Representative which included BitTorrent tracker sites like The Pirate Bay, Demonoid, Torrentz, and IsoHunt. Sure they may contain some ads, but the sites have to pay their server and hosting bills somehow.

“Bipartisan congressional efforts to crack down on these operations are opposed by groups who claim the First Amendment protects the rights of these sites to use the Internet for their illegal practices,” adds Pisano. “But the First Amendment was not intended as a shield for those who steal, irrespective of the means. Theft is theft, whether it occurs in a dark alley or in the ether, and to attempt to distinguish the two is to undermine the most basic tenets of our criminal laws.”

Critics like the Center for Democracy and Technology have pointed out that there are very real free speech concerns, among them the fact that an entire site, not just infringing pages would be blocked, and domain names owned by people living far outside the United Stateʼs geographic borders would likewise be “far from the kind of procedure that ensures a full and fair trial with all interested parties present.”

More importantly, the bill would mean for the US govt will set a precedent that any country can seize or order the blocking of a domain name if some of the content on the domain (even if located elsewhere) violates the country’s local laws.

The EFF also points out that “sites that discuss and advocate for P2P technology or for piracy,” like this very site, ZeroPaid, and which link to tools and information intended for file-sharing, could find themselves targeted by the DOJ. It could decide that infringement is “central” to their purpose and take entire sites offline.

The crux of Pisano’s whole argument falls apart when he argues that web filtering will protect and create American jobs. Nothing could be further from the truth. All the COICA will do is “prevent” American consumers from accessing sites devoted to copyright infringing activities – Americans! This means there will be no additional revenue created for copyright holders in the entertainment industry, only that they will potentially capture more of the dollars people are currently spending in other parts of the economy that they might otherwise spend on copyrighted material if it weren’t access to illegal sites.

“The operators of these sites knowingly break the law, harm the American economy, deprive American intellectual property owners of their rights, cost American jobs and, in the case of counterfeit prescription drugs, potentially threaten the health and welfare of American consumers,” he says.

Again, these are all bogus claims. It’s highly unlikely any new American jobs will be created. All that may happen is that some jobs in the the industries he cites may be created, but they’ll come at the expense of jobs in another industry. It’s a game of musical chairs.

As for the sites that sell counterfeit prescription drugs, sure this is a problem and its despicable, but isn’t the larger question one of affordability? Many of the people who buy counterfeit prescription drugs are probably trying to do anything they can to keep costs down, especially in this poor economy. Censoring the web will not change this, they’ll simply look elsewhere.

True criminal activity means making a profit on the backs of the hard work of others. If file-sharing was “stealing” American jobs that why has the MPAA enjoyed year after year of record breaking profits, not to mention a 30% increase in global ticket sales since 2005. If the MPAA is doing so well where’s the threat to the American economy?

Stay tuned.

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