The US SOPA Is Our DEA In Cowboy Boots


Britain has had two years of legal debate about the online copyright isssue, says Peter Judge. Why has the US not learnt anything?

Lazy Brits often characterise Americans as dumb lunkheads. As a site with a strong feed of intelligent content from the US, we don’t have that option on eWEEK Europe.

But anyone looking at the SOPA Act going through the House of Representatives would be tempted to reach for their transatlantic prejudices. Two years and much argumentation have passed since our own Digital Economy Act began to deal with the issue of piracy – and the house appears to have learnt absolutely nothing from that.

Giving copyright claimants everything

The UK’s Digital Economy Act attcked piracy by proposing that sites which infringed copyright could be taken down, and users who illegally share copyright material should be subject to measures including having their internet connection cut off.

Critics have laid into those provisions. While acknowledging that piracy is wrong, it has been pointed out that the process of taking down a website should be hedged with safeguards to prevent any false or malicious accurastions.

And shutting people off the internet when they are suspected of piracy could be seen as interfering with their basic rights. Since the government wants to cut costs by moving government services off paper and onto the net, anything that takes individuals off the net will become a serious matter.

And then of course there is the issue of freedom speech. Moves against piracy have often been used, say critics, to restrict the speech of individuals.

The original Digital Economy Bill emerged from Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report, and was published almost exactly two years ago by the last Labour government. It was passed in April 2010, becoming the Digital Economy Act just before the last general election.

Since then, there has been much debate. The ISPs, who will be expected to carry out its provisions, have led the legal challenge against it.

Has nothing been learnt?

After watching this process, it is a bit of a surprise to see the US law-making process weighing in, in such an incompetent fashion.

The SOPA does not give any guidance on checking the validity of any takedown requests and has been criticised for bending over backwards to the copyright holders. Fortunately, as Wayne Rash points out, there is a conflicting bill in the US Senate, so we can hope that SOPA will be cancelled out in the process of reconciling the two.

What stuns me in all this is that in an age when information is published instantly, it seems that the US House of Representatives was completely unaware of the discussions that had already taken place elsewhere.

Of course, the idea of information being published instantly would be one of the casualties of the SOPA- and indeed, that seems to be what the copyright holders want.

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