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Pegoraro: Online Piracy Act Is Copyright Overreach

In the bargain, SOPA would make it a felony to stream copyrighted content online. Unlike PROTECT IP, it folds in a version of a poorly considered proposal to extend criminal punishment to the “public performances” of copyrighted material online — closing a gap in current law but also opening up some unpleasant consequences, depending on courts’ interpretations.

In other respects, SOPA is merely no smarter than PROTECT IP. Neither bill requires Internet providers to block access to a blacklisted site by its numerical IP address. And neither appears to require search engines to remove the text of a blacklisted site’s address, only direct links to the site. In both cases, anybody with a minimum of online experience could easily reach the allegedly offending site.

The latter loophole may be a nod to this clause at the start of SOPA: “Nothing in this Act shall be construed to impose a prior restraint on free speech or the press protected under the
First Amendment to the Constitution.”

Good idea. But online, domain names and hyperlinks are how we speak — ask any politician, company or trade association that’s registered every domain name with an insulting variation of its own moniker.

Sadly, ignoring truths such as those is standard operating procedure in too many tech policy bills.

That’s the most frightening thing about SOPA and the annual appearance of bills like it: what they suggest about the technological competence of our elected representatives.

Rob Pegoraro writes about consumer technology for the Consumer Electronics Association’s Tech Enthusiast site and Discovery Communications’ Discovery News. From 1999 to 2011, he wrote the Washington Post’s consumer tech column.

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