With the ubiquity of legitimate and fairly inexpensive sources for fast, high-quality streaming, the issue of online piracy seems to have taken a back seat in the public eye. Not so on Capitol Hill, where a new piece of legislation introduced to the House of Representatives could give law enforcement sweeping new powers to make so-called “rogue” websites involved in Internet piracy virtually vanish.
The bill, boldly called the Stop Online Piracy Act, would grant new powers to the Department of Justice. Under the new law, the DOJ could use a court order served to Domain Name System (DNS) providers, search engines, and even advertising companies to sever an offending website from public access. Once served, these parties would be obliged to drop accused websites from search engine results, invalidate the site’s URL, and presumably cut them off from advertising money; a kind of “death penalty” for websites.
According to CNet, the bill enjoys bipartisan support from a dozen odd vocal representatives. The supporters argue their cause using terms that touch on both finances and national pride. From CNet:
Rep. Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican who heads the House Judiciary committee, said the measure will help “stop the flow of revenue to rogue Web sites and ensures that the profits from American innovations go to American innovators.”
To balance that out, California Democrat Rep. Howard Berman called the measure an “important next step in the fight against digital theft.” Because the war on drugs is going so well, it’s vital that we kick things up a notch on the war against Internet piracy.
As with all things in congress, the measure has opposition. Free speech and digital rights advocates, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Computer and Communications Industry Association have lined up against the measure. Whether they will be able to muster support against the new law will be tested on November 16, when hearings begin on the bill.
That said, the fact that this is called the Stop Online Piracy Act suggests to me that the legislative backers are perhaps a bit enthusiastic. The Internet has already seen the death of behemoths of file sharing — Napster, Kazaa, LimeWire, and the original Suprnova to name but a few — and piracy continues. This new law, with its sweeping new powers, could have an effect on piracy, but it is unlikely to “stop” it. Not with piracy so easy and so casual.
Perhaps instead of throwing their influence and money behind new and distressingly powerful legislation that will no doubt have constitutional ramifications, media companies would be better to follow in the footsteps of Netflix and find new, innovative ways to deliver content to consumers. At least we can take solace in the fact that bitterly divided political parties could set aside their differences and show support for this, right? Right?