US Government Puts Protect IP Act on Hold

On Sunday, New Zealand time, the US Congress postponed the Protect IP and the Stop Online Piracy Acts, without any date for the proposed laws to be re-visited.

In the common US contortionist naming of bills, the Protect IP Act stands for Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (or PIPA) and the Stop Online Piracy Act is known as “SOPA”.

The bills were introduced in mid 2011. The intention of the planned legislation was particularly to stop online piracy of movies and music, but it would have included piracy of software and even counterfeiting of drugs and car parts.

The bills’ provisions were drafted to be very broad with, for example, the powers for US courts to issue injunctions or restraining orders against internet sites where the site “harms holders of US intellectual property rights” (see Sec 3(b)(1)(B) of PIPA) and critics have said their passing would stifle the Internet and result in censorship.

Critics of the bills included NetCoalition, representing Internet and technology companies such as Google, Yahoo and Amazon.com. NetCoalition claimed the new law would inflict “serious collateral damage … on the Internet”, blocking lawful sites and restraining new business.

Wikipedia held a 24-hour online “blackout” protest for its English site on 18 January.

The postponing of the bills is being heralded as a victory for Internet users over Hollywood, which has campaigned for a tougher response to online piracy. The chief Senate sponsor of the bills, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt, has claimed that copyright piracy costs the American economy more than US$50 billion annually.

The White House hasn’t expressly opposed the bills but it issued a statement last week that it would “not support any legislation that reduces freedom of expression … or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.”

It will be very interesting to see if the proposed legislation is taken up again. Senator Jerry Moran, who was one of the initial supporters of the bills has apparently said the “uprising” of so many people with similar concerns was a “major turnaround” and that the bills now have “such a black eye” that it will be difficult to amend them.

But prior to the postponement, other supporters of the bills had said there had been recent progress in talks between stakeholders and that any legitimate issues could be resolved.

In a New Zealand twist on the whole affair, the Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (the chief Senate sponsor of the bills) was apparently quick to praise the shutting down of MegaUpload.com and the criminal proceedings against the site’s founder and employees, who were arrested in a “rented mansion” in Coatesville, north of Auckland, on Friday.

The full text of PIPA can be found here.

(Pirate image by ‘Earl – What I Saw 2.0′ and licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence.)

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