SOPA's Vague Language Could Lead to Wide Restrictions on Information Available on the Internet, UB Expert Says

Release Date: January 18, 2012

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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- With Wikipedia, Reddit and other websites “going dark” today to raise awareness about two anti-piracy bills that could affect the amount of content available on the Internet, UB Law Associate Professor Mark Bartholomew shared his thoughts on the pending legislation. The bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act and PROTECT IP Act, are commonly known as “SOPA and PIPA.”

On why SOPA could have a “chilling” effect:

“The problem with SOPA is that the language is very vague. So let’s say this passes without any further changes -- then we’re going to have to rely on judges to evaluate this language. They could construe it very narrowly and it won’t affect things very much. Or they could construe it very broadly so that all of a sudden, all this information on the Web is no longer available. And that’s something potentially chilling -- having this vague language out there that gets passed by Congress.”

“From the perspective of Google and other Silicon Valley technologists, the thought is that this is going to go too far: How are we supposed to know when a rogue website is 100 percent bad? Maybe they just have a couple of things that are infringing.  Should a search engine really be required to block all access to that website?”

On the widespread protest against SOPA and PIPA on the Web, with Wikipedia and other sites “going dark” to raise awareness about the legislation:

“I have been surprised. The story of modern copyright law in this country has largely been of the copyright interests having their way with Congress. The music and motion picture industries have been incredibly effective lobbyists. But now we see for perhaps the first time technologists like Google really flexing their political muscle to potentially stop this legislation in its tracks. I’m not that surprised that the blogosphere is objecting to these proposed laws, but I am impressed by how technology companies are channeling this Internet outrage into real political momentum.”

On the purpose of SOPA:

“The purpose of the law is to limit the activity of infringers who offer copyrighted material for free online. We can’t stop these rogue infringers who act in foreign jurisdictions, where U.S. law often doesn’t reach. So the next best thing is to require Google or Yahoo and sites like these to kick those people off the system.”

“Currently, Internet companies are only responsible for removing specific infringing materials when they’re notified of those specific materials by the copyright holder. With SOPA, the threat is that they can be forced to remove entire websites. So instead of removing one infringing video, Google would no longer be able to present you with search results from an entire website.”

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