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Vint Cerf leads charge against online piracy legislation

The highly controversial legislation entered the second day of a markup hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, a process that usually takes a couple hours. After considering only the first four of the some 60 proposed amendments, the House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) called a recess for the weekend.

The SOPA bill is intended, according to its sponsors and supporters – including the music and film industries – to fight piracy of online content. The bill would allow the US Attorney General to seek injunctions against foreign websites that steal and sell US innovations and products. The bill increases criminal penalties for individuals who traffic in counterfeit medicine and military goods and improves coordination between IP enforcement agencies.

However, critics, including Cerf et al., argue that the bill and a similar bill in the Senate called the Protect IP Act (PIPA) would expose online companies to uncertain liability for content judged to violate intellectual property law.

If enacted, SOPA and PIPA bills would “create an environment of tremendous fear and uncertainty for technological innovation, and seriously harm the credibility of the United States in its role as a steward of key Internet infrastructure”, the engineers warned in their letter.

“Regardless of recent amendments to SOPA, both bills will risk fragmenting the Internet's global domain name system (DNS) and have other capricious technical consequences. In exchange for this, such legislation would engender censorship that will simultaneously be circumvented by deliberate infringers while hampering innocent parties' right and ability to communicate and express themselves online”, they wrote.

For internet companies, the main issue is that the bills would eliminate the legal safe harbor under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for companies that act in good faith by removing copyright infringing content from their sites.

Commenting on the SOPA legislation, Vic DeMarines, vice president of products for business software intelligence provider V.i. Labs, told Infosecurity: “Trying to stop piracy by adding new tools to disable access to the piracy channels is a futile strategy for software vendors. Past experience suggests that these tactics only create new methods and approaches for sharing pirated content. Until this bill can address those concerns and target the actual adopters of pirated software it will do little to stop online piracy.”

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