Argh! White House Sails Into Anti-Piracy Debate - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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Argh! White House Sails Into Anti-Piracy Debate

Argh! White House Sails Into Anti-Piracy Debate

The White House navigated into the choppy waters of the international online piracy debate over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), which both seek to regulate online piracy by foreign companies that violate U.S. copyright law.

In an official statement the Administration responded to two online petitions, which asked the President to veto the SOPA and any other legislation that would quell the free flow of content and information on the internet.  The White House stated that, “While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.”  In addition to detailing the types of provisions that the White House would and would not support, the statement specifically stated that, “[a]ny effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small.”

The SOPA and the PIPA bills contain provisions, which have increased the growing rift between Hollywood and Silicon Valley, where the two titan industries are battling over internet freedom and content protection under the law.

Among those in opposition to SOPA and PIPA are major Internet superpowers Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Yahoo, who collectively opposed both bills in a New York Times advertisement published in Fall 2011.  These global corporations noted that the current provisions in the bills could mandate monitoring of website activity and content and impose a serious risk on the nation’s cybersecurity.  As an alternative, the ad called for more specific provisions, which focused on targeting copyright and trademark infringement by foreign companies without overreaching into the realm of continued technological innovation and job creation. 

On the other side of the debate are the major movie studios and entertainment unions that strongly support the proposed legislation which would grant the Justice Department broad authority to shut down foreign websites containing pirated content that violated U.S. copyright laws.  Ironically, media giant Rupert Murdoch even weighed in on the debate via Twitter, specifically deriding Google as a “piracy leader.”  The Motion Picture Association of America Inc. (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) both released statements in response to the White House’s position.  In particular, the MPAA reiterated concerns about economic protections and the effect that online piracy has on creative integrity stating that, “[e]very day, American jobs are threatened by thieves from foreign-based rogue websites. This deplorable situation persists because U.S. law enforcement does not have the tools to fight back . . . .”  The MPAA expressed optimism that the White House’s involvement in the debate would provide a push toward, “what can be accomplished and passed into law to protect American jobs.”

The White House supported the idea of a collaborative solution to the anti-piracy problem, suggesting that aside from legislation, a compromise between the Entertainment and Tech Industries would also serve to significantly diminish online piracy.  Although the Administration did not formally reject or endorse a particular position, the signal is clear: the White House is unlikely to support SOPA or PIPA without significant revisions that reflect the primary concerns over censorship, innovation, and job creation.

The Senate is scheduled to review PIPA on on January 24 and the House Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on SOPA later this month.  Both bills will likely be revised to reflect the concerns and problems highlighted by the White House.

Danielle May

Danielle May is a 3L at Fordham Law with an interest in information policy, cybersecurity, and alternative dispute resolution.