Setting the record straight on SOPA

If you’ve read recent articles in The Hill regarding legislation to help stop online piracy, you might think that the sky is falling. Several of the articles extensively quote opponents of the bipartisan Stop Online Piracy Act without any reference to the bill’s 29 bipartisan co-sponsors and numerous industry supporters. 

Unfortunately, this biased reporting discredits The Hill as a legitimate news source and does a disservice to the readers who rely on The Hill’s reporting for the facts.

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So let’s set the record straight.

The Stop Online Piracy Act specifically targets foreign websites primarily dedicated to illegal activity or foreign websites that market themselves as such. The bill addresses the problem of online criminals who steal and sell America’s intellectual property and keep the profits for themselves.

When most Americans think about counterfeit goods, they think about street vendors who sell fake brand-name purses or pirated DVDs for a fraction of the price. But what many Americans don’t realize is that there is a vast virtual market online run by criminals who steal products and profits that rightly belong to American innovators.

These foreign websites are called “rogue sites” because they are out of reach of U.S. laws. Movies and music are not the only stolen products that are offered by rogue sites. Counterfeit medicine, automotive parts and even baby food are a big part of the counterfeiting business, and pose a serious threat to the health of American consumers.

Because the U.S. produces the most intellectual property, our nation has the most to lose if we fail to address the problem of rogue sites. According to estimates, IP theft costs the U.S. economy more than $100 billion annually and results in the loss of thousands of American jobs. 

The recently introduced manager’s amendment to the Stop Online Piracy Act makes clear that the legislation specifically targets the worst-of-the-worst foreign rogue websites. Legitimate and lawful websites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have nothing to worry about under this bill.

In fact, the changes in the manager’s amendment reflect conversations with representatives from companies like Microsoft and Facebook, and seek to address technical concerns with the first draft. The resulting manager’s amendment improves the legislation, increases industry support and ensures the protection of American innovation and American jobs.

Under the bill, only the Justice Department can seek an injunction against a foreign website for which the primary purpose is illegal and infringing activity. The Justice Department must go to court and lay out the case against the site. If the judge finds that the site is primarily engaged in illegal activity, a court order can be issued that authorizes the Justice Department to request that the site be blocked. Internet Service Providers and search engines will simply be required to remove the link to an illegal site so that it doesn’t come up as part of the search results. 

Some critics have claimed that this “blocking” of an illegal foreign site amounts to censorship of the Internet. But simply because the illegal activity occurs online does not mean that it is protected speech. Laws are enforced in the brick and mortar world. It’s not censorship to enforce the law online.

The rest of the bill focuses on stopping the flow of revenue to rogue sites. If a federal judge agrees that a foreign site is dedicated to illegal and infringing activity, then a court order can be issued directing companies to sever ties with the illegal website. Third-party intermediaries, like credit card companies and online ad providers, are only required to stop working with the site. They cannot be held liable for the illegal or infringing actions taken by the rogue website.

Unfortunately, some critics of this legislation have made large profits by promoting rogue websites that sell counterfeit goods directly to U.S. consumers. Google recently paid half a billion dollars to settle a criminal case because of the search engine giant’s active promotion of rogue foreign pharmacies that sold counterfeit and illegal drugs to U.S. patients. Their opposition to this legislation is self-serving because they profit from doing business with rogue sites that steal and sell America’s intellectual property.

Despite a few vocal opponents, the Stop Online Piracy Act has broad bipartisan support in Congress and across the country.

This bill does not threaten the Internet as a tool of communication and commerce. But it does threaten the profits generated by those who willfully steal intellectual property by trafficking in counterfeit or pirated goods.

Smith chairs the House Judiciary Committee and is the sponsor of the Stop Online Piracy Act.