As the year winds down, TV viewers across the nation are in danger of losing their local broadcast stations thanks to disputes over retransmission consent fees. These are the fees that cable and satellite companies pay to local stations to carry the stations’ signals on their systems. In recent years, as the negotiations have become increasingly combative, viewers have faced blackouts, or threatened blackouts of those local stations.
This past Friday, legislation was introduced into both the House and Senate that would reform the television industry, doing away with what many say are outdated and onerous regulations that are hampering innovation and fair competition between multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) and broadcasters, in addition to curbing the ability of broadcasters to compete in a free market.
The Next Generation Television Marketplace Act would repeal the rules that mandate carriage of broadcast television channels by cable companies and repeal retransmission consent, which have allowed broadcasters to have the upper hand in negotiations for carriage with distributors. The legislation would do away also with government limits on media ownership and the one-size-fits-all compulsory copyright license.
Those who understand how the Internet works watched in horror last week as those who don’t debated how to regulate it at a mark up of the Stop Online Piracy Act. The House Judiciary committee is now poised to approve H.R. 3261.
No one disputes or could dispute that the Internet makes crime easier. Theft of intellectual property is one such crime made easier by the Internet. Rights holders are concerned about this, and they should be.
However, the debate over what we as a society ought to do about online piracy and infringement has gone into the weeds – so much so that bills now pending before both houses of the US Congress (S. 968, PIPA; and H.R. 3261, SOPA) seek to compel American Internet Service Providers to alter fundamentally the way their connected customers access the Domain Name System.
This type of mandated filtering is not an American innovation. Strong governments around the world use DNS filtering to signal their displeasure over all kinds of things they don’t like, whether it be untaxed online gambling, or pornography, or political dissent.
That Congress is now seriously debating doing likewise may represent a sea change in American thinking – as though we as a people can no longer decide for ourselves what is in our best interests to see or not to see on the Internet, and so we now need our government to help us.
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. Legitimate and lawful websites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have nothing to worry about under this bill.
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.
America has become an international leader in innovation and a hotbed for industries, job creators, artists and new thinkers of all kinds.
Spanning from the music to manufacturing to technology sectors, America has a significant interest in keeping our companies and creators viable and open for business. Unfortunately, there is a stealthy menace seeking to rob our nation of the ingenuity for which we are so well known.
The property rights of American businesses and artists are under assault by foreign rogue sites, websites dedicated to the theft of intellectual property. This property, embodied in trademarks and copyrights, is being stolen en masse by cyber criminals and resold to unsuspecting consumers, oftentimes at their own risk.
Rogue websites have a history of taking from Americans. Through the 53 billion site visits that they attract per year, these illegal online retailers have cost legitimate businesses $135 billion in revenues and contribute to the loss of 2.5 million jobs in the G-20 economies. Nationally, 19 million Americans depend on IP-intensive industries for stable, secure employment opportunities.
I am an author living in Texas. My Congressman, Lamar Smith, introduced a bill this fall to help protect copyrights online. I wish this effort every success.
Since 1995, I've been a published author, first under contract to Kensington Publishing and, since 1997, to HarperCollins/Avon. For the last three years, I've been watching as digital thieves began offering my books – free – to anyone, sometimes in an effort to make money for themselves (with sites such as Filesonic), and sometimes, just because they could. "Love Karen Ranney's books – here they are, all thirty of them!"
For the last three years, I've been watching my royalties drop, even as I actively fight digital thieves. Each month, I routinely take down between a hundred to two hundred links to my "free" books. Each day, I go to twenty-seven digital thief sites (I refuse to call them pirates – they're thieves). Each day, this costs me an hour to an hour and a half of work time.
As a writer, I am often frustrated when I hear people justify illegal downloading by claiming that no one is hurt from piracy – or that "all information on the Internet should be free, man." Guess what? I don't create information. I create entertainment, with my imagination and by sitting in a chair for twelve to sixteen hours a day, day after day.
As a representative of some of America’s most innovative companies, I have long fought against the legendary copyright lobby. But rarely in my 30 years of battle have I witnessed the copyright owners (Hollywood, the music industry, etc.) perform such a blatant power grab with a pair of bills moving through Congress today.
Their legislation – the PROTECT IP Act (S.968) in the Senate and its House equivalent, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA, H.R.3261) – is so far reaching that, if enacted, it will chill Internet innovation, economic progress and job growth for the next generation.
What began as an attempt to restrain foreign piracy on the Internet has morphed into a domestic “kill switch” on First Amendment freedom in the fastest-growing corner of the marketplace of ideas.
Proposed federal legislation purporting to protect online intellectual property would also impose sweeping new government mandates on internet service providers – a positively Orwellian power grab that would permit the U.S. Justice Department to shut down any internet site it doesn’t like (and cut off its sources of income) on nothing more than a whim.