Connecticut’s Congressional delegation is split on its support of two pieces of legislation currently moving through Congress. Three members of the delegation are co-sponsors of bills that aim to end Internet piracy, while four remain uncertain about how the legislation will impact the Internet as a whole.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is currently with the House Judiciary Committee and will be voted upon after the winter recess. The Senate’s Protect IP Act (PIPA) will be up for a vote Jan. 24.
The website Sopatrack.com is tracking where each of member of Congress stands on the legislation.
Chris Dodd, the former Connecticut senator who now heads the Motion Picture Association of America, is the main proponent of the legislation. Dodd believes the new law will end theft of his industry’s copyrighted material by foreign websites. But the technology community says the legislation will effectively lead to Internet censorship because it will force search engines and other websites to delete links to foreign websites with copyrighted material or risk being taken down themselves.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal won Dodd’s Senate seat in 2010 and is a co-sponsor of the Protect IP Act.
“The basic goal is to protect intellectual property from thieves,” Blumenthal said two weeks ago in a telephone conversation. “It costs American jobs and Connecticut industries that depend on their intellectual property.”
Blumenthal said that right now websites abroad are in “flagrant violation of the protections that apply to websites here.” He said the legislation targets foreign websites dedicated to “infringing activities defined under the law as having no significant use other than engaging in copyright infringement.”
But the technology community, including spokespersons for Google, Facebook, and Mozilla, believe the impact of the legislation goes much further than foreign websites even if an amendment adopted by the House Judiciary says otherwise.
“Just like SOPA, this bill will create new cybersecurity risks and jeopardize the basic structure of the internet as we know it,” Mozilla wrote in a statement on its website.
Critics of the legislation say the Senate’s Protect IP Act, which also is being co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, would stop traffic to rogue sites using a filtering method that could have unintended consequences.
In essence, critics say the filtering method would lead to the addition of bad information to domain name data, thereby compromising existing DNS security protocols that ISPs are in the process of upgrading already. Thus, the filtering efforts could interfere with those security upgrades and open the door to identity thieves who could effectively clone sites — such as those of retailers or even banks — and begin stealing users’ credit card or banking information. Users would have no way of knowing they were on the wrong site — the url would be identical to the original.
Circle ID has written a paper on the possibility of security problems based on how the system for creating domain names currently works.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin likened the legislation to Internet censorship practices in China and Iran.
“Imagine my astonishment when the newest threat to free speech has come from none other but the United States. Two bills currently making their way through congress — SOPA and PIPA — give the U.S. government and copyright holders extraordinary powers including the ability to hijack DNS and censor search results (and this is even without so much as a proper court trial),” Brin wrote on his Google+ account.
U.S. Rep. John Larson is the only member of Connecticut’s U.S. House delegation to sign on as a SOPA co-sponsor. Larson also was fond of using the phrase, “In Dodd We Trust,” while the head of the MPAA was Connecticut’s senior senator.
“Congressman Larson believes that something must be done because under current law, many of these websites are beyond reprimand from the U.S. judiciary system simply because they operate offshore, outside the jurisdiction of our law enforcement agencies. It’s estimated that the theft of intellectual property costs the United States $58 billion in economic output,“ Chris Licata, Larson’s spokesman, said in an email. “We simply cannot let this problem go unaddressed.”
But he doesn’t seem to be offering blind support of the legislation and acknowledges that there may be problems.
“Congressman Larson is absolutely open to addressing them and working to improve the bill,“ Licata said. “The Congressman is equally concerned with ensuring that this bill does not shut down access to legitimate websites while reigning in illegal online piracy. Ultimately he believes these concerns can and will be addressed before the legislation is signed into law. ”
His colleagues in the House submitted more cautious responses.
“I’m actively following this issue as it moves through Congress,“ U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy said. “While legitimate concerns have been raised about the bill as introduced, my hope is that we can find a balance that provides protection for U.S. intellectual property online while also protecting Internet freedom and innovation.”
“Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro supports efforts to combat online piracy and the sale of counterfeit goods, but is still studying this bill to ensure that any effort to address this issue preserves the freedom of the internet,” Kaelan Richards, her spokeswoman, said in an email.
U.S. Rep. Jim Himes and Joseph Courtney took similar approaches.
“I agree that while the bill may be well intentioned, we need to do more to ensure that this legislation does not expose companies to new liabilities or infringe upon Americans’ 1st amendment rights, or threaten the vitality of the Internet,” Himes wrote in a letter to a constituent that was published online.
Courtney expressed similar reservations in a letter to a constituent as well.
He said that while the threat of “rogue” websites is real in terms of copyright infringement and distribution of counterfeit goods, “the bill’s focus is on U.S.-based domain name servers, Internet advertisers, search engines, and financial transaction providers – all of which would be required to prevent access or suspend business services to the websites in question.”
“Under this approach, legitimate websites by U.S.-based businesses and Internet users could be targeted unfairly,” Courtney wrote.
But the cautious approach to the legislation is new.
Last week, Internet domain registration giant GoDaddy pulled its support of the legislation when a grassroots movement caused it to start losing business.
“We have observed a spike in domain name transfers, which are running above normal rates and which we attribute to GoDaddy’s prior support for SOPA, which was reversed,“ Warren Adelman, GoDaddy’s CEO, wrote in a statement on its website. “GoDaddy opposes SOPA because the legislation has not fulfilled its basic requirement to build a consensus among stakeholders in the technology and Internet communities.“
But the technology community, which doesn’t have much of a lobbying presence in Washington, D.C., was tardy in expressing its concerns about the legislation.
The early debate was focused solely on the film industry, in which Connecticut has invested heavily through tax credits.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy expressed his support for the Senate’s Protect IP Act in June in this letter to Blumenthal.
“Since Connecticut’s tax incentive for film and digital media became effective in July 2006, the state has become a prime production location,” Malloy wrote. “In only five years, over 150 production companies have flooded to Connecticut to film movies, commercials, television shows, and documentaries and these companies have spent $500 million in the state.”
“The continued growth of the Connecticut film and digital media industries is crucial to increasing revenue and creating jobs within the state,” Malloy wrote. “As you know, intellectual property piracy is estimated to cost the global economy $650 billion each year, and this theft has cost the G20 economy 2.5 million jobs.”