PIPA: Right idea, wrong methods

February 28, 2012 — by Parul Singh

The newly introduced PROTECT IP Act, or Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act, PIPA for short, has caused a storm of controversy in the Internet community. And while the Senate’s intentions are sound in creating this act, their methods infringe upon basic freedoms that Americans hold dear.

The bill introduces two methods of fighting online piracy facilitated by foreign websites. The first method aims to force Internet service providers such as Comcast to block the domains of copyright-infringing sites.

While the need to protect intellectual property is pressing, forcing private companies such as Comcast to bear the burden of protecting this property is unfair. Additionally, according to the provisions of the act, the site could still be blocked even if the illegal content was user submitted.

This effectively infringes on online freedom and irrationally holds websites accountable for material the operators did not even post. If PIPA is passed, it will result in the immediate blocking of over hundreds of websites for no fault of their own.

This in turn will result in websites disabling their user participation features altogether, stemming free speech by instilling fear of online communication and sharing.

In an increasingly global community, interactions among people from differing countries become more and more important. Governments should not be trying to restrict Americans from creating bonds across nation lines. Already people of different nationalities are interconnected through websites such as Twitter and Facebook, the enactment of PIPA will effectively restrict their means of communication.

PIPA’s second method of enforcement is to remove all access to offending sites by mandating that search engines remove all links to the website in question. Once again, this places the burden on search engines to moderate their content when in fact the government should prosecute the offending sites. However, because America has no jurisdiction over foreign websites this is the only way the government can respond.

In both methods, PIPA seeks to block American users from accessing illegal foreign content rather than attacking the problem at its source. The loss of American users will not diminish the power of these websites as they have user bases in multitudes of other countries.

Film-making industries currently support PIPA because they wish to recover profits that are currently being leeched away by the availability of free content online. If PIPA is enacted, however, the economic consequences will be much more dire. Millions of dollars will have to be spent by the government in enforcement, and also by individual websites to safeguard their content against piracy.

Until America is able to negotiate with foreign countries to control the content on their websites, punishing American citizens and companies is not the answer.

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