U.S. Congress contemplates legislation punishing copyright infringement on websites

Stephanie Haines

Congress debated the Protect IP Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act on Wednesday amidst opposition from major websites to the proposed bills.

According to an August article in The Washington Post, Senator Patrick Leahy introduced the Protect IP Act, which grants the government and private copyright holders the power to take legal action against “rogue” websites that enable copyright infringement.

In these cases, the Post wrote, judges could rule to suspend financial support to sites allegedly containing unauthorized copyrighted material.

Other than domestic sites, Medill Prof. Craig Lamay said this law, if passed, could target foreign websites.

“By allowing the justice department to go after piracy sites, the bill also grants jurisdiction over sites not in the United States,” Lamay said. “It’s bullying.”

Another Post article published online Wednesday said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith presented a similar bill, SOPA, which aims to curb online piracy. According to the Post, this bill allows the government to penalize websites that contain copyrighted content without permission.

While the Post said the SOPA bill has both Democratic and Republican support, major networks like Google seriously oppose the bills because they say it would undermine websites’ right to free speech and inhibit job innovation.

“Some sites are so giant that they can’t keep track of every little infringement,” Lamay said. “These bills allow the justice department to come after these small infractions with a baseball bat.”

On Tuesday major networks including AOL, eBay, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo, Zynga and Mozilla wrote a joint letter printed in The New York Times expressing their concerns about the bills to Leahy, Senator Chuck Grassley, Smith and Representative John Conyers Jr.

To speak out against the bills, Tumblr created a censorship page that connects subscribers with their local district representative to urge him or her not to vote for the bills. Communication senior Elsa Stahura said she heard about the bills and how major networking sites were trying to work against them.

“I was pretty impressed that Tumblr would create a censorship page dedicating itself to this cause,” Stahura said.

Associated Student Government Speaker of the Senate Wilson Funkhouser said he called his representative upon logging in to his Tumblr account. He said he briefly spoke to the representative about the dangers of the bills.

“I am glad that Tumblr made it easy for people to actually talk to their representative,” Funkhouser said. “It sets itself apart as streamlined communication.”

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