Google and Facebook battle US anti-piracy laws
Technology giants including Google and Facebook are joining forces against a new US law designed to clamp down on online piracy, claiming it threatens the internet industry.
The proposed Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act have set the technology industry against music and film companies, in a debate reminiscent of the controversy over Britain’s Digital Economy Act.
The legislation proposes new powers to shut down websites engaged in intellectual property infringement such as unlawful downloading and counterfeit pharmaceuticals.
But a who’s who of Silicon Valley has claimed it “pose[s] a serious risk to our industry's continued track record of innovation and job creation, as well as to our nation's cybersecurity”.
Google, Facebook, Twitter, Zynga, eBay, Mozilla, Yahoo, AOL, and LinkedIn made the claim in a letter to Congress.
“We support the bills’ stated goals – providing additional enforcement tools to combat foreign ‘rogue’ websites that are dedicated to copyright infringement or counterfeiting,” they said.
“Unfortunately, the bills as drafted would expose law-abiding US internet and technology companies to new uncertain liabilities, private rights of action, and technology mandates that would require monitoring of websites.”
The group said it was particularly concerned by aspects of the legislation that it claimed undermine the so-called “safe harbour” protections granted to internet service providers under earlier laws. It allows firms such as Google to offer blogging and other services without fear of legal action over copyright, as long as they remove infringing content when notified by the rights holder.
“Since their enactment in 1998… [they] have been a cornerstone of the US internet and technology industry’s growth and success,” the letter to Congress said.
The technology firms argue that the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act will force them to constantly monitor their services to block infringement.
A Google representative will today give evidence to the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, a bipartisan group which is sponsoring the Stop Online Piracy Act, alongside spokesmen for the film and pharmaceutical industries. The web giant’s chairman described the proposals as “draconian” earlier this week.
“Here's a bill that would require ISPs to remove URLs from the web which is also known as censorship last time I checked,” he said.
In a fact sheet about the legislation, however, the Committee dismissed such censorship concerns as “myths”.
“There is an important distinction between free speech and the theft of goods or services,” it said.
“It is appalling and offensive to attempt to draw a parallel between political dissidents and those denied religious freedom to those who will no longer be able to make money from engaging in illegal activity and theft.”
In Britain, there was similar intensive lobbying on both sides in the run up to the introduction of the Digital Economy Act, in the final days of the Labour Government.
The legislation, which includes controversial provisons for blocking rogue websites, has so far had a limited impact. The current Government is instead hosting talks between internet firms and copyright holders aimed at securing voluntary agreement on how to deal with rogue websites.
Meanwhile a recent test case brought by the film industry against BT showed that older legislation can be used to compel internet companies to block websites involved in copyright infringement. The High Court ordered Britain’s largest broadband provider to cut off access to Newzbin2, a website that offers links to unlawful downloads.