In all likelihood, the results of the Protect IP Act (PIPA) wouldn’t be that dramatic. The main targets of the bill are offshore-run websites guilty of copyright infringement. Targeting them is all well and good, but if the new version of PIPA, to be unveiled later this week, looks like what Demand Progress is reporting, a dangerous precedent would be set in the realm of Internet regulation.
PIPA would give the executive branch of government, specifically the Attorney General, the power to act as a plaintiff in any legal action against the owners of a domain running what is deemed to be a breach of copyright law. The issue here is that the Attorney General has the power to act as judge, jury, and executioner, ordering ISPs to block United States citizens from accessing the website in question by blacklisting the DNS IP address.
So, what does that have to do with Twitter and YouTube? Not much. That might change later this week. Demand Progress’ sources are claiming that the new version of the bill features an additional amendment, barring other sites from linking or referring to ‘blacklisted websites’ – websites that the Attorney General has ordered blocked. This isn’t a big deal for most websites – they just need to remove the link and be done with it. For sites that rely on user-generated content like Twitter and YouTube, though, maintaining that kind of control over all content on the website is next to impossible. Even if this bill were passed, you have to imagine the minds behind these websites would adapt to survive, but the result might feature draconian controls that would not sit well with their users.
There’s also the matter of precedent. Net neutrality has always been strong in the United States, and the passage of this bill would represent the first real blow to it. Making it this easy for the government to censor parts of the Internet seems like a reckless way to solve the problem of copyright infringement, especially considering there are already separate laws and procedures in place to address that particular crime. In that sense, this bill is as redundant as it is misguided.
In another interesting turn, members of both the Tea Party and the Democratic Party have come out against the bill, which has to be a first. So, who is behind the bill? It’s a mixture of Republican and Democratic Congressmen, but things become clearer when you look at the list of corporations and organizations in support of the bill. It’s not a shocker. The MPAA and RIAA figure prominently.
If you want to take action and let your Congressman or Congresswoman know about your views on the PIPA, check out Demand Progress’ webpage about the bill. The headline claiming that Twitter and YouTube could be shut down is a bit of hellraising hyperbole, but it gets the message across, and it technically isn’t false.
The Senate version of the bill can be read here. The House version, expected to contain the bit about linking and referring, is expected later this week.