It’s time to protect America’s entrepreneurs from online piracy

Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, America is currently engaged in fierce competition with other nations to retain and attract jobs and business investment. The way we perform in this global competition will determine the fate of millions of U.S. jobs.

With the omnipresent threat of excessive litigation, a trend toward more government regulation of the private sector, and the uncertainty for businesses that has been created by the questionable policies of Washington, D.C., in recent years, America faces many challenges in this fight for business and jobs. 

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However, we also have numerous advantages, and the resourcefulness and innovation of the American people are chief among them. We are a nation of entrepreneurs and creators, and it is especially important in today’s global competition for jobs and capital that we jealously protect the incentives to innovate that the Framers wrote into the U.S. Constitution.

Ben Franklin, with his lightning rod, bifocals and many other inventions, and Thomas Jefferson, with his cipher wheel, swivel chair and others were just two of the Framers who were also inventors and writers. They understood that America would have to compete in a global marketplace and the importance of innovation to the destiny of America in that marketplace. That is why they specifically included language in the Constitution that empowers Congress to reward inventors and authors with limited, exclusive use of their works for a period of time in order to encourage American innovation.

It is for these same reasons that I have joined with Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.) and many other bipartisan members of Congress to introduce H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act. This legislation preserves the vital incentives that are necessary for entrepreneurs and authors to continue investing in new inventions, writings and products. 

Today, with the advent of the Internet, it is easier than ever in the history of the world to steal others’ ideas and works. This unfortunate reality hits American entrepreneurs particularly hard because they continue to be the world leaders in innovation. America’s entrepreneurs are increasingly being left with no option other than to sit and watch as their intellectual property is stolen by overseas thieves, copied and distributed throughout the world with the click of a mouse. To add insult to injury, these unauthorized products and services almost always make their way back to consumers within the U.S.

Not only does this illegal activity destroy the incentives for American entrepreneurs to create new products and services, it is also very dangerous. When counterfeit medicine with dangerous ingredients, fake automobile brakes made of sawdust, or phony military equipment are sold to U.S. buyers, the consequences could be disastrous.

While U.S. innovators have strong tools at their disposal to enforce their property rights against thieves within the United States, they are severely limited when the theft occurs overseas. The Stop Online Piracy Act gives American innovators tools to limit the damaging repercussions of foreign theft and thereby protect the value of their investments. 

For example, the bill allows the Department of Justice to go to court to seek an injunction against a foreign website that is dedicated to the theft of U.S. property. If the court agrees that the foreign site is dedicated to the theft of U.S. property, it can ask payment processors to block financial transactions to those illegal sites, advertising networks to stop selling ads to those illegal sites, search engines to stop returning results to those illegal sites and ISPs to disable U.S. access to those illegal sites. The bill also grants more limited authority to innovators themselves to petition the court to declare a foreign website as dedicated to the theft of U.S. property. While a website cannot be blocked as a result of these cases, it does allow a court to starve such a foreign illegal website of money by authorizing the court to ask payment processors and advertisers to stop processing financial transactions and advertising deals with these foreign rogue sites. 

The Stop Online Piracy Act will strengthen the ability of American inventors and creators to enforce their property rights overseas, which will make the protections our Framers envisioned more than 200 years ago relevant in the digital and global marketplace. This will in turn encourage more innovation in the U.S., more investment in that innovation, and more U.S. jobs. As competition continues to escalate among countries for jobs in the global marketplace, we cannot afford any longer to allow foreign criminals to exploit this gaping loophole in one of our nation’s biggest competitive advantages.

Goodlatte is chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet.