Enforcing anti-piracy law on Internet encounters sea of turbulence

February 20, 2012 12:00 am

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A few weeks ago, Congress quickly shelved the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act after incurring vocal public outrage led by Web giants such as Google and Wikipedia. SOPA and PIPA sought to require the blacklisting of websites that facilitate online piracy.

For example, search engines would have to exclude offending sites from search results and third-party payment processing companies like PayPal could not do business with them.

As originally drafted, the laws would have required Internet service providers to block offending websites. The controversy over SOPA and PIPA puts into focus the tension between intellectual property rights and First Amendment free speech realities that many general counsel should bear in mind as their companies navigate the Internet Age.

Digital technologies such as CDs, MP3s and MPEGs allow users to copy a work any number of times with no reduction in quality. The Internet gives them the ability to distribute these copies to a worldwide audience.

No longer were individual infringers a few isolated households with money to purchase two VCRs and make a copy of their three-day rental of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Instead, a single person could distribute a high-quality reproduction of a song, movie, book or picture to people across the globe, instantly and at little cost.

This reality led to a change in civil enforcement strategy for many firms. Instead of focusing on large-scale commercial infringement, many industries began to target consumers of pirated material. Their litigation strategy was intended to deter individuals from sharing files across the Internet.

Technological changes created new challenges in criminal enforcement as well. On Jan. 19, federal prosecutors seized and shut down Megaupload.com and charged seven of its executives with Internet piracy.

First Published 2012-02-19 23:09:42

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