Does the PROTECT IP Act Actually Protect?
Written By Jennifer Williams
Reviewed By Cynthia Amis
I have heard and often used the saying ‘here one day and gone the next.’ One thing that I have never thought of applying it to is a website. Imagine a world in which one day you type in a URL and go to your favorite website and the next day it has vanished, seemingly into thin air, and all that is left is a blank page. This seems to be the world that the PROTECT IP Act (short for Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property) will create.
The PROTECT IP Act seeks to deny access and linking to ‘pirate’ websites, which are ‘dedicated to infringing activities.’ (for full text of the PROTECT IP Act see: http://www.dontcensorthenet.com/full-text-of-the-protect-ip-act-of-2011). There seem to be a handful of supporters, largely and not surprisingly from the film and music industry, who believe that the Act will be beneficial to the Internet and its users. Copyright infringement is sure to cost companies in the entertainment industry an unimaginable amount of money, as consumers are often lured into getting the latest music or movie for free if they have the option. What the PROTECT IP Act seeks to do is give the United States Department of Justice the power to seek an injunction against an allegedly infringing website and ultimately make it invisible.
I am somewhat persuaded by this side of the argument. I can understand why, for example, if I am a website selling an artists songs, I would be less than trilled about another website coming along with the very same pirated music for free. Many consumers will go with what is free without looking back and the PROTECT IP Act seeks to resolve this problem. Yet, one must always remain a skeptic and ask at what cost will this ‘protection’ be offered? There must be a downside to the Act, I thought, and sure enough there is more than one.
Just as there are supporters of the Act, there seems to be a larger and more vocal number of people in opposition to it. Companies such as Google, Yahoo! and Ebay have been vocal in their opposition to the Act. Some of the loudest opposition comes in the form of a group of law professors who teach and write about IP and Internet Law. These professors have banded together to draft and sign a letter opposing the Act. Their reasons for opposition are simple; first the PROTECT IP Act will require essentially a verdict of death for those websites that are deemed to be ‘dedicated to infringing activities.’ This means that the website will no longer be available to the public and what is worse is that the same day the complaint is filed, and injunction will be issued making the site unusable. This equates to a suppression of First Amendment rights without a proper hearing, which is of course unconstitutional.
The second reason for opposition is that the PROTECT IP Act will be detrimental to the safety and stability of the Domain Name System, which serves to link servers to web domains for easy navigation and access to webpages. Finally, the Act will undermine the United States’ position in promoting free speech and exchange of information via the Internet. The PROTECT IP Act seems more closely in line with the repressive regimes that censor content as opposed to the United States usual position, which in general openly leads the support for freedom of information.
I can also find myself persuaded by these arguments. There is something unsettling in the idea that a website will basically vanish into thin air at a moments notice. The criteria for determining is meant by ‘dedicated to infringing’ seems a little too vague for comfort and what really makes me uncomfortable is this automatic injunction before a hearing has even taken place.
Despite the fact that the opposition seems to have a louder voice, there is still good arguments for both sides of this argument which means that it is harder to determine which is the best answer. Regardless of the outcome, it is clear that either way there will be unhappy campers.