Brooklyn Law School IP professors Derek Bambauer, Jane Yakowitz, Jason Mazzone, Samuel Murumba, Irina Manta, and Jonathan Askin held a Town Hall Meeting to address the issues surrounding the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA), and encourage students to get involved in the legal process. The panel was moderated by the Robert B. Catell Associate Dean for Student Affairs & Professor of Law Beryl Jones-Woodin.
In October 2011 SOPA was introduced by Congressman Lamar S. Smith to expand the ability of U.S. law enforcement to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. In January 2012, 7,000 Web sites coordinated a service blackout, or posted images in protest against SOPA and PIPA, in an effort to raise awareness. The panel discussion centered on the unprecedented nature of the protest and an analysis of the bills.
Bambauer presented an overview of the SOPA, noting the differences and similarities in SOPA to the much criticized PIPA, while Yakowitz addressed the privacy issues inherent in the bills. “There is a concern that the government may collect IP addresses from end users who try to access the seized domain and are rerouted to a government Web site. Moreover, service providers like Google and Facebook might interpret the bills to mandate monitoring of their users' browsing and content creation. Information censorship and surveillance are close cousins,” Yakowitz said.
Commenting on the problem of copyright infringement, Mazzone said that his concern with SOPA and PIPA has been that copyright owners have not explained why they should be entitled to enlist Internet service providers and intermediaries to help fight infringement and they have not explained why the public should bear the costs of censorship that SOPA and PIPA would produce. Deeming SOPA and PIPA “dead,” Mazzone attributed the demise of these laws not to protests by Internet users but to opposition from technology companies. “In the tech companies like Facebook and Google," he observed, "the content industries have met their match.” He argued that while in the past copyright owners have powerfully influenced how copyright laws have been made, technology companies are now poised to play a role as well and that their interests differ from those of traditional copyright owners. At the same time, he noted, "it would be wrong to assume that the tech companies will represent the interests of ordinary Internet users."
Murumba raised the human rights issues SOPA may present, especially freedom of expression; also law-abiding U.S. Internet companies would have to monitor everything users link to and download, or potentially face time-consuming litigation, posing a serious risk to innovation and job-creation. These issues are explored more deeply in Murumba’s seminar, Human Rights and Intellectual Property, and are discussed in his forthcoming article entitled “Foxes and Hedgehogs at the Intersection of Human Rights and Intellectual Property” to be published in the Monasha Law Review. The entertainment industry, however, claims that online piracy is sapping its profits and depriving content creators of a means to make a living.
The panelists asserted that supporters of the Internet deserve credit for challenging advocates of SOPA and PIPA to back away from pushing through the controversial legislation. Askin praised the Internet community’s recent success. “Now that the Internet community is offering up a counter-balance to the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America, I suspect that members of Congress now see dollar signs in their sights,” he said. He noted that KeepTheWebOpen is soliciting input from the public to comment on the OPEN Act to make suggestions for its revision.
While Congress has indefinitely shelved voting on both SOPA and PIPA, the professors argued that the issue will undoubtedly arise again. Bambauer expects that the bills will return in a revised form and be more focused on public enforcement and funding. “This latest fight represents a watershed, where the information technology industry came of age politically and where the content industries were dealt their first real setback in pushing for stronger intellectual property protections.”
“Procedurally, I am optimistic that a few tech-enlightened members of Congress will use the issue as a proof of concept for participatory democracy in the Digital Age,” added Askin. “SOPA misses the point of what a digital media company is in the 21st Century. It is my hope to work with Brooklyn Law students to help to advance the process of digital democracy.”