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OPEN: A Possible Replacement For The US SOPA/PIPA Laws

Eric is a veteran British tech journalist, currently editing ChannelBiz for NetMediaEurope. With expertise in security, the channel, and Britain's startup culture, through his TechBritannia initiative

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The Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) Act is rising in popularity as an alternative to SOPA and PIPA

A likely candidate to succeed the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) has arisen in the US. It is called the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) Act.

The alternative Act has arisen at a good time for US legislators because 18 senators who previously supported SOPA and PIPA have withdrawn. Google’s online US petition drew 4.5 million signatures of protest and around 7,000 Websites went black in support of Wikipedia’s action. Senate email systems collapsed under the deluge of protests, while Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, and Microsoft added their voices to the calls to stop the Acts.

The SOPA opera continues

SOPA and PIPA appear dead in the water and Zuckerberg (pictured) said in a Facebook post: “The world today needs political leaders who are pro-Internet. We have been working with many of these folks for months on better alternatives to these current proposals. I encourage you to learn more about these issues and tell your congressmen that you want them to be pro-Internet.”

Mark Zuckerberg

The rising star is the OPEN Act which would take a different approach to its Draconian forebears. The mainstay of the proposal is to prevent payments going through to foreign vendors of pirated and counterfeited downloads. This would leave the Internet unaffected in that browsers could still see the illegal sites.

The duty of enforcement would be placed on the US International Trade Commission (ITC) which is unfortunately overloaded at the moment as part of its responsibilities is to adjudicate patent-related disputes – the other current preoccupation of American legislators.

The ITC would be responsible for collecting fees from complainants and to investigate the troublesome sites. This is an element missing from the cavalier SOPA and PIPA proposals – the application of a judicial process to confirm illegal activity before action is taken – innocent until proven guilty.

However, the other two Acts are not quite dead and the Hollywood studios and music industry, which have funded the SOPA supporters to the tune of an estimated $4 billion (£2.6bn), are reportedly withdrawing their funding of President Barack Obama’s November re-election campaign in protest. The $4 billion estimate is based on registered donations to pro-SOPA politicians which stood at over $2 billion (£1.3bn) last July – four times the amount raised by the anti-SOPA lobby.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is also said to be mounting an ad campaign aiming to address “misconceptions” about SOPA and PIPA.

Although OPEN is being supported by Google, Yahoo, eBay and other anti-SOPA activists in the NetCoalition lobby, it is unlikely to draw support from the film and music industry moguls because it only addresses paid-for downloads. There are numerous sites which allow free downloads and these would gain traffic if OPEN was adopted.

What OPEN does offer is a basis for future legislation. It would stop the seemingly legal sites from attracting innocent customers who feel that all is well because they are paying for their downloads. Future amendments could address ways to tackle the freeloaders.