More than 130 CEOs, start-up founders and tech business executives, including Friendster alum Jonathan Abrams and MovieFone’s Matthew Blumberg, have come together with a common goal: prevent PROTECT IP from being passed into law.
In a letter addressed to Congress, the group broached potential security concerns, DNS issues and the proposal’s overall vagueness as key criticisms, reminding members to consider that their votes may also impact small businesses and stymie job creation.
Admitting that the goal of PROTECT IP is noble, the group maintained its core opposition due to the bill’s methods:
We are not opposed to copyright or the bill’s intent, but we do not think this bill will actually fulfill copyright’s purpose of encouraging innovation and creativity. While the bill will create uncertainty for many legitimate businesses and in turn undermine innovation and creativity on those services, the dedicated pirates who use and operate “rogue” sites will simply migrate to platforms that conceal their activities.
The group argued that the bill’s intention to root out and shut down piracy and counterfeit web sites is based on an ideal that is “ripe for abuse”:
Legitimate sites with legitimate uses can also in many cases be used for piracy. Historically, overzealous rightsholders have tried to stop many legitimate technologies that disrupted their existing business models and facilitated some unauthorized activity. The following technologies were condemned at one point or another – the gramophone (record player), the player piano, radio, television, the photocopier, cable TV, the VCR, the DVR, the mp3 player and video hosting platforms. Even though these technologies obviously survived, many individual businesses like DVR-maker ReplayTV and video platform Veoh were not so fortunate – those companies went bankrupt due to litigation costs, and sold their remaining assets to foreign companies.
Penned by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and backed by several other senators, PROTECT IP (.PDF) aims to “prevent online threats to economic creativity and theft of intellectual property” by instituting new guidelines and empowering federal bodies with additional piracy-fighting tools. The technology advocates explained a downside to such widespread changes:
One of the key reasons why startups and innovative small businesses became the success stories we know of today was protection from misguided lawsuits under the safe harbors of Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). By properly putting the legal liability on the actual actors of infringement rather than third-parties, Congress wisely ensured that service providers, such as many of the companies represented in this letter, could flourish.
[PROTECT IP] would put new burdens and possible liability on independent third parties, including payment processors, advertising firms, information location tools and others. The definitions here are incredibly vague, and many companies signed below could fall under the broad definitions of “information location tools,” meaning costly changes to their infrastructure, including how we remain in compliance with blocking orders on an ever-changing Internet.
Echoing statements from a white paper (.PDF) published in May, the group agreed that implementing the bill would severely undermine legitimate companies.
“[PROTECT IP] will fragment parts of key Internet infrastructure, and disrupt key security tools in use today,” they wrote. “Interfering in the basic technological underpinnings of the Internet that we all rely on today would be a huge anchor on innovation in many of our companies.”
Several others have made similar remarks in the past few months.
Three law professors wrote Congress in July, arguing that “the approach taken in the Act has grave constitutional infirmities, potentially dangerous consequences for the stability and security of the Internet’s addressing system, and will undermine United States foreign policy and strong support of free expression on the Internet around the world.” Eric Schmidt, Google Executive Chairman, publicly criticized any attempt to “whack off the DNS” at a London speech.
Supporters of the bill include the MPAA, RIAA and the National District Attorneys Association. Musician Don Henley also voiced his support, writing in an op-ed at USA Today that PROTECT IP contained “common-sense extensions of current legal powers” and was far from “radical.”