When a movie studio such as Paramount finds its copyrighted content being distributed illegally online through a peer-to-peer network such as BitTorrent, the studio sends a notice to the Internet service provider to inform them about nefarious activity on their network.
Jerry Wolfe, a systems administrator at Metamora Telephone Company, said the ISP receives two to five notices a day through email.
“From what I see of (piracy notices), it’s not like we get hundreds and hundreds and hundreds a day,” he said, adding that dealing with them is not his main job function.
Corporations, however, are pushing to further protect their intellectual property after the Stop Online Privacy Act (H.R. 3261) was introduced to the House of Representatives in October. Under SOPA, a judge’s order could force ISPs, ad networks and search engines to block access to what have been deemed “rogue websites.”
Though many content owners support the bill – namely those in the TV and movie business, such as the Screen Actors Guild, Comcast/NBC Universal and Viacom – SOPA has generated controversy from those who believe the bill would allow for censorship of the Internet.
“As written, H.R. 3261 gives sweeping power to Internet regulators,” wrote U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock’s (R-Ill.) communications director, Steve Dutton, in an email. “[Schock] is concerned that such broad authority will lead to censorship of even legitimate websites if there is even the smallest implication of copyright infringement.
“This regulation would move the Internet community from one based on its free market capabilities toward an Internet regulated by the government,” Dutton continued. (Read Dutton’s full email.)
He went on to say that SOPA could hinder the grown of an industry based on the Internet and the entire medium in general.
Peoria lawyer Jonathan Phillips doesn’t worry so much about SOPA’s potential censorship capabilities as he does about its potential to stifle small businesses.
“Is pirating a movie free speech? It clearly isn’t,” he said.
To illustrate how SOPA could affect businesses, Phillips referred to eBay. The online auction site acts as a facilitator of breaking the law because knockoffs of branded items are sold on it.
“SOPA would allow the attorney general to take over,” Phillips said, meaning the site could be shut down. “EBay has nothing to do with it.”
Critics of SOPA jumped on the House Judiciary Committee for supposedly stacking the panel in their favor during their Nov. 16 hearing. Representatives from Pfizer, MasterCard, the Register of Copyrights, the AFL-CIO and the Motion Picture Association of America testified in favor of the bill, while Google was the sole company represented to protest the bill.
Phillips said it didn’t matter.
“You can bring in five people, but none of them have the swagger of Google,” he said. “It’s like a bunch of ants versus a single person.”
Phillips said he understands the need to protect intellectual property because of the economic incentives it creates. A patent is protected for 20 years so money is spent to invent something.
Trademarks establish a brand name so consumers are protected when they buy that brand’s products. Copyright helps people create with the idea that others can’t steal that original work.
However, he feels as though SOPA is draconian.
For one, Phillips said the bill – whose Senate counterpart is the PROTECT IP Act (S.968), or “Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property” – would allow the United States to shut down websites in a foreign country such as Belgium, which he said the U.S. has no business doing.
“How would we feel if France shut down all the McDonald’s in America?” he asked. “It’s too far-reaching.”
The lawyer said SOPA would also allow the Justice Department to shut down domain names – say, YouTube, which has plenty of infringing content on it – without due process of law.
Phillips said if the bill passes, the courts could still determine how to enforce it.
Wolfe said cable companies may send an infringing user a letter to warn them to stop, but MTCO prefers to call their customers.
“We want to talk to you,” he said, adding that many people probably just throw away the letters.
Wolfe said MTCO gives infringing users three strikes before shutting down their Internet.
“This can get away from you like a fire if you don’t care of it,” he said.
MTCO only reveals its customers’ identities to content owners when a federal court issues a subpoena.
“If a federal subpoena hits my desk for privacy,” he said, clutching dozens in his hand, “you can guarantee some lawsuits are coming.”
Once the content owners can identify those who are illegally distributing their content, MTCO backs off.
“Is it my responsibility to take care of Time Warner and their stuff? No,” Wolfe said. “That’s their responsibility, and they can deal with it.”
Wolfe said he doesn’t think piracy will ever be resolved.
“There’s always somebody smarter than us,” he said.
BitTorrent, he said, is a P2P site geared more for the everyday users. Newsgroups, on the other hand, allow users to download content piece by piece in binary form and use software to assemble it.
Wolfe said he isn’t familiar with the proposed SOPA bill or its PROTECT IP cousin, but he likened stopping Internet piracy to growing marijuana in the backyard.
“You can try to stop it all you want, but it’s still happening,” he said.
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