Online piracy act must be stopped

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 January, 2012, 12:00am


Let us be clear: There is no place for theft on the internet. Those who knowingly distribute and download copyrighted movies, music and books should be caught and punished under the laws of the jurisdiction they are in. But it is not up to another government to set the rules and police what people elsewhere can access or dictate how they should behave. Anti-piracy legislation before lawmakers in the US infringes those rights and threatens the freedoms that the online world has given us.

Rightly, the issue has sparked heated global discussion. In response to US Congressional debate on the Hollywood-pressured legislation, known as the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House of Representatives and the Protect Intellectual Property Act in the Senate, major web-based companies launched protests on Wednesday. It was impossible to avoid their disapproval, with some sites being shut down, others blacking out their homepages and asking users to sign petitions. The scale of the criticism has prompted some lawmakers to withdraw support for the bill.

So they should. Such legislation would permit court orders forcing internet service providers, search engines, payment processors and online advertising companies to block or stop doing business with non-US sites considered linked to piracy. While copyrighted material must be protected, the methods suggested for achieving this are a step towards encouraging censorship and disrupting the structure of the internet. Both bills contain provisions that are ambiguous enough to cause concern about internet freedom.

But they are not, as has been suggested, an effort to replicate China-style censoring with a US 'Great Firewall' - Americans would never allow that. What is worrying, though, is that the possibility of curbing freedoms has been raised. We have got a sense of what life without some of the sites that could be banned would be like and for many that was disorientating. Every effort has to be made to stop the draft law and others potentially like it from being enacted.