Editor’s Note: The following is the text of a letter sent by NPI to the offices of U.S. Senators Patty Murray of Washington and Jeff Merkley of Oregon this morning.
Dear Senators Murray and Merkley:
On behalf of the team at the Northwest Progressive Institute, I am writing to express our strong opposition to two bills currently before Congress that we believe would stop innovation and erode digital freedom. These bills – H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and S. 968, the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) – have been moving towards the Senate and House floors for several months, but have not received much public debate or scrutiny until very recently.
Although these bills are not identical, they contain many similarities, and we believe each deserves to be rejected – a view shared by Google ‚Yahoo, AOL, eBay, Twitter, Facebook, OpenDNS, the Free Software Foundation, Mozilla, Tumblr, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge, the Center for Democracy and Technology, Free Press, MoveOn.org, Daily Kos, LinkedIn, Zynga, and many other companies, individuals, and organizations. (See a more complete list).
“These bills were written by the content industry without any input from the technology industry. And they are trying to fast-track them through Congress and into law without any negotiation with the technology industry.”
— Venture capitalist Fred Wilson, October 29th, 2011
The purpose of these bills is ostensibly to provide better remedies under federal law to deal with cases of copyright and trademark infringement. Unfortunately, these bills, PIPA and SOPA, were drafted by the entertainment industry, for the entertainment industry – without broad input.
They are so flawed, in fact, that an increasing number of artists and musicians are speaking out to make it clear that powerful trade groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) do not speak for them.
Digital freedom, net neutrality, user consent, and interoperability are all policy directions that NPI cares deeply about. Before NPI existed physically – before it existed legally – it existed virtually, as an idea on the world wide web. That idea – to build a think tank with the soul of a tech startup – could not have taken root or been embraced by a larger group of people without the Internet.
It is no exaggeration to say that NPI, like many of the aforementioned companies and organizations, owes its existence to the Internet – a revolutionary medium for communication unlike any other humankind has ever invented.
“What the bills propose would be akin to requiring the phone company to be responsible for the legality of every phone call that takes place. With that kind of regulation, companies will spend more on lawyers and litigation than they will on hiring and innovating. Existing laws like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act already provide a satisfactory legal framework to remove copyright infringement and enforce intellectual property rights.”
— David Ulevitch, the CEO of OpenDNS, the world’s largest DNS and Internet security service.
Prior to the creation of the Internet, an artist or an activist had to go through gatekeepers to get published or get on-air.
Commercial printing presses, radio stations, and television networks were – and still are – controlled by gatekeepers.
But the Internet is different. The Internet allows people to get their ideas out without having to go through a gatekeeper. In a matter of hours, anyone who wants to make his or her voice heard can set up a blog on WordPress or Tumblr, create a social networking account on Twitter or Facebook, or join a wiki… and begin building an audience. And millions of people have done just that.
Besides allowing people to freely share ideas, the Internet has also allowed people to freely share software, movies, music, games, books, and other creative works which are often lumped together under the label content or intellectual property. Unfortunately, the entertainment industry often makes it sound as if all online sharing on the Internet is happening against the wishes of rights holders. (Frequently, spokespeople for the industry equate the words online sharing with a more ominous-sounding word… piracy). But this is simply not the case.
Many artists, activists, and organizations (including NPI) actively encourage the sharing of their creative works and make this legally possible by using what is known as a copyleft license – such as Creative Commons or the GNU GPL.
The word copyleft is a play on the word copyright, and it refers to the idea of using copyright law to encourage sharing and reuse under certain conditions (some rights reserved vs. all rights reserved). The author or creator of the work retains the copyright, but through the license, grants permission for the song, book, video, photograph, computer program, recording, paper, or other work to be reproduced and shared by anyone who would like to enjoy it – through the world wide web, through peer-to-peer networks, through email, or through other means.
Most of NPI’s works are released under a Creative Commons copyleft license which requires attribution and additionally specifies that all reuse of our materials must be noncommercial.
It is no accident that a good deal of the opposition to Protect IP and SOPA stems from within what Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig has called the free culture movement – a worldwide social and political movement that believes deeply in the free exchange of ideas and information.
The free culture movement also believes that draconian copyright laws lead to a situation that Columbia Law School Professor Michael Heller calls the tragedy of the anticommons – the waste of a resource due to too much ownership.
“By making culture too hard to assemble, we silently diminish our own collective wealth. And the greatest harm occurs along the frontiers of innovation, including artistic expression,” Heller says in his 2008 book The Gridlock Economy.
Copyleft can help prevent tragedies of the anticommons, but the positive contribution to free culture that copyleft is currently making could be canceled out by PIPA or SOPA.
Either of these bills, if enacted, would hinder innovation, stifle free expression, and endanger America’s moral standing by suppressing speech without proper notice and hearing, breaking the infrastructure of the Internet, and undermining U.S. leadership in the world community on civil liberties issues.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has created a fitting hashtag on Twitter that aptly summarizes the position of those of us opposed to these bills: #DontBreakTheInternet.
“Although the problems the Act attempts to address – online copyright and trademark infringement – are serious ones presenting new and difficult enforcement challenges, the approach taken in the Act has grave constitutional infirmities, potentially dangerous consequences for the stability and security of the Internet’s addressing system, and will undermine United States foreign policy and strong support of free expression on the Internet around the world.”
— Excerpt from a letter opposing Protect IP and SOPA, signed by more than more than a hundred of the most respected law professors from across the United States
The Internet is the greatest conduit for free culture that has ever existed. We must protect and strengthen it, not cripple it. These bills – Protect IP and SOPA – amount to the proverbial cure that’s worse than the disease.
Your seatmates in the United States Senate – Maria Cantwell and Ron Wyden – are already on record as opposed to these bills.
In a letter to Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell (also signed by Republicans Rand Paul of Kentucky and Jerry Moran of Kansas), they write:
We are particularly concerned that the proposal authorizes the use of remedies that will undermine the infrastructure of the Internet.
The nation’s leading technologists and security experts say these provisions will kill our best hope for actually making the Internet more secure against cyber attacks. We take seriously the alarm expressed by the nation’s leading investors in new online startups who say the proposal will dampen interest in financing the new ideas and businesses of tomorrow, and to legal and human rights experts who caution that the proposal enables the silencing of speech.
We ask that you join Senators Cantwell, Wyden, Paul, and Moran in publicly taking positions against PIPA and SOPA. We believe united opposition to these bills from the Pacific Northwest’s delegation would help spur our nation to have a more open, constructive conversation about how to minimize copyright and trademark infringement without endangering digital freedom.