Ed's Blog

SOPA and PIPA stop innovation and freedom and harm consumers without stopping online piracy

By Ed Mierzwinski
Senior Director, Federal Consumer Program

UPDATE: The web is full of SOPA/PIPA commentary today. You can start over at the Consumerist, where there is a series of posts.

Their coverage includes an interview with science fiction author/Internet activist and Boing Boing co-founder Cory Doctorow. They also interview Craig Newmark of Craigslist (who, in full disclosure is noted as a member of the board of directors of Consumerist's parent Consumer Reports/Consumers Union. So am I.). They also led with Consumerist Is Against SOPA/PIPA And That's All We're Writing About Today.

Original Post: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and powerful music, film and publishing titans have gone too far in demanding that the Internet as we know it -- an engine of innovation, freedom, democracy, commerce, idea-sharing and entrepreneurship -- be throttled down so that their legitimate problems with offshore pirates can supposedly be solved. They think every problem is a nail but their only tool is a hammer, a sledgehammer. Their bills won't hammer the nail, but they will hammer you, me and the Internet.

U.S. PIRG, the Consumer Federation of America and Consumer Reports/Consumers Union sent Congress a letter to express our extremely serious concerns with H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act. Excerpt:

Consumers benefit greatly from being able to use the Internet to connect with a wide variety of buyers, sellers, and with each other. Online forums and marketplaces allow consumers to exchange information about products and exchange products themselves in thriving secondary markets. However, the broad language of the bill threatens these activities.[...] Consequently, overzealous rights holders could shut down lawful exchange sites like craigslist, eBay, swap.com, or BookCrossing, closing off valuable outlets for small-scale buying and selling. For instance, a legitimate student-to-student textbook exchange site could be hampered or shut down by a publisher for the actions of just a few infringing users, raising the costs of an already-expensive education."

Our letter also points out that while the bill will choke innovation and discourse on the net and create a legal tangle, it won't stop piracy. We are also particularly troubled that the bill could put a stop to numerous Student PIRG efforts to lower the cost of textbooks.

Wikipedia says: "Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge." It and other sites have gone black for the day to urge netizens to take action. Fortunately, opposition to SOPA and its Senate companion, PIPA, is growing. Hill leaders are getting the message and slowing their once-relentless push toward passage of these bills without modification. This weekend White House technology leaders said in an official blog post that there's a better way. See Combating Online Piracy while Protecting an Open and Innovative Internet.

We need to use more sophisticated tools than hammers. This is, after all, the 21st Century.

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