Politics & Policy

Defending SOPA

It would protect American businesses without infringing on freedoms.

Since National Review’s founding, conservatives have turned to it for informed, insightful, thoughtful, and accurate reporting and commentary. Unfortunately a recent NRO article, “Congress Censors the Internet,” wrongly attacks legislation intended to protect America’s innovators from criminals who steal and sell America’s intellectual property and keep the profits for themselves. Claims that the Stop Online Piracy Act will censor legal activity on the Internet are blatantly false. Enforcing the law against criminals is not censorship.

The Stop Online Piracy Act specifically targets websites dedicated to illegal and infringing activity. Often based overseas, these websites are called “rogue sites” because they flout U.S. law and face zero legal consequences for their criminal activity. Rogue sites not only steal America’s products and profits; they steal jobs that rightly belong here at home. This bill cuts off the flow of revenue to rogue sites by preventing criminals from selling and distributing counterfeit products to U.S. consumers.

#ad#The bill defines rogue sites as websites that are dedicated to the facilitation of the illegal sale and distribution of counterfeit or pirated goods. Websites like Facebook and YouTube that host user content are not “dedicated to” illegal activity and they certainly do not make a business out of “facilitating” the illegal sale and distribution of counterfeit or pirated goods. But if a user posts illegal content on a website like Facebook or YouTube, current law allows rights holders to notify the website to remove the illegal content.

The Stop Online Piracy Act is a constitutional bill that protects free speech and America’s intellectual property. The First Amendment is not an excuse for illegal activity. Simply because the illegal activity occurs online does not mean that it is protected speech. Like online piracy, child pornography is a billion-dollar business operated online. It is also illegal. That’s why law enforcement officials are authorized to block access to child-porn sites.

Similarly, this bill authorizes the attorney general to seek an injunction against a foreign website that is dedicated to illegal and infringing activity. The attorney general must go to a federal judge and lay out the case against the site. If the judge agrees, a court order will be issued that authorizes the Justice Department to request that the site be blocked.

This bill does not allow anyone to seek an order to block any website. It affords the same due-process protections provided in all civil litigation in federal courts. If a federal judge agrees that the website in question is dedicated to illegal and infringing activity, then a court order can be issued directing companies to sever ties with the illegal website. Third-party intermediaries, such as credit-card companies and online-ad providers, are only required to stop working with the site. They cannot be held liable for the illegal or infringing actions taken by the rogue website.

The problem of rogue sites is real, immediate, and widespread. According to estimates, IP theft costs the U.S. economy more than $100 billion annually and results in the loss of thousands of American jobs. Congress cannot stand by and do nothing while some of America’s most profitable and productive industries are under attack.

The House Judiciary Committee has and will continue to work with groups to improve this bill and ensure that it targets the problem of rogue websites. Unfortunately, there are some critics of this legislation who are not serious about helping to protect America’s intellectual property. That’s because they’ve made large profits by working with and promoting rogue sites to U.S. consumers. Google recently paid a half billion dollars to settle a criminal case because of the search-engine giant’s active promotion of rogue foreign pharmacies that sold counterfeit and illegal drugs to U.S. patients. Their opposition to this legislation is self-serving since they profit from doing business with rogue sites.

This bill does not “threaten online freedoms.” But it does threaten the profits generated by those who willfully steal intellectual property by trafficking in counterfeit or pirated goods.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R., Texas) chairs the House Judiciary Committee and is a sponsor of the Stop Online Piracy Act.

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