|Tea Partiers, Conservatives Should Embrace Congressional Anti-Piracy Legislation|
By Timothy H. Lee
Thursday, November 03 2011
Here’s a reliable rule of thumb: If Senator Marco Rubio (R – Florida) and Representative Marsha Blackburn (R – Tennessee) support proposed legislation, it’s likely an excellent idea.
Here’s corollary rule of thumb: If the self-described Marxist organization Free Press fiercely opposes proposed legislation, that conversely suggests that the bill in question is a good idea.
And here’s the latest manifestation of those two corollaries: The debate over proposed Congressional legislation to fight online piracy by foreign rogue websites.
Americans should strongly support the proposed legislation, because current law insufficiently protects American goods from the destructive menace of foreign online piracy. Rhetoric abounds regarding foreign threats to American jobs and wealth, especially during election season, but this legislation actually does something about it.
In the Senate, the PROTECT IP Act emerged unopposed from the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year, and should receive full floor vote by December. In the House, Rep. Lamar Smith (R – Texas) recently introduced the counterpart Stop Online Piracy Act with the support of Rep. Blackburn and numerous other cosponsors. Both bills enjoy overwhelming bipartisan support, and are likely to pass despite hysterical and inaccurate claims from opponents.
Here’s why the issue is important.
The bills target foreign websites that flagrantly violate American intellectual property (IP) rights through such activities as trafficking counterfeit goods and pirating content. Examples of infringements span the range of products on which much of the American economy itself is based, from fake NFL jerseys to knockoff shoes and purses to potentially deadly counterfeit drugs to movies and music.
Currently, American industries that rely upon IP account for approximately 60% of exports, employ almost 20 million workers, pay salaries averaging 60% higher than non-IP industries and produce almost $8 trillion in gross output in 2008. That amount exceeds the gross domestic product (GDP) of every other nation on Earth. International IP piracy now constitutes an estimated $650 billion industry causing $360 billion annual loss, with approximately 25% of all Internet traffic centered on IP violation. Consequently, parasitic foreign websites constitute an enormous threat to our economy during a period of global anemia.
That’s where anti-piracy legislation comes in.
Existing law already targets domestic websites that infringe on IP rights, and it’s obviously illegal to operate a brick-and-mortar store selling pirated goods. The anti-piracy legislation in question would extend those prohibitions to foreign infringing sites.
Under its provisions, federal authorities or injured parties could seek judicial orders prohibiting domestic conduits from aiding or abetting foreign rogue websites, including continued online access or payment transfers.
Opponents of the legislation falsely claim that it would somehow “give the Obama Administration massive new powers to censor and regulate the Internet,” “give Eric Holder’s Justice Department massive new powers to unilaterally remove sites from the U.S. Internet” and “deputize the private sector with the power to disconnect the URLs of any websites corporations contend are behaving improperly.”
Such claims are flatly and preposterously false. Courts, not the Obama Administration or private parties, would adjudicate claims following presentation of evidence under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Furthermore, the legislation protects innocent parties by punishing anyone who inflicts damage via improper claims.
To be sure, Americans must zealously guard against excessive grant of authority to the federal government, and no reasonable person advocates some sort of police state. Freedom, however, is functionally impossible without the prerequisite foundation of property rights and the rule of law. Hobbesian lawlessness constitutes the primordial threat to a society and its economy, which is precisely why our Founding Fathers incorporated property protections into the text of the Constitution itself. It is also why Abraham Lincoln observed, “The patent system added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius.”
Unless innovators can rely on the rule of law to protect the fruits of their labor and safeguard the expectation of reward for their endeavors, a society’s prosperity and wellbeing remain in jeopardy. After all, why risk one’s investment and labor if free riders can simply pirate the end product with impunity?
This legislation would finally address that threat, and it deserves public support.
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