Needed: Piracy Laws Based in Evidence

Last weekend, I posted a bit of a rant about the MPAA and its chairman, former U.S. senator Chris Dodd. On Twitter, Pablo Arrieta responded by pointing me to Declan McCullagh’s recent coverage of White House plans to target ‘offshore’ web sites it feels are guilty of pirate activity.

‘Offshore’ has such a nice ring to it, a step up from ‘foreign’. It may help the next bill succeed where SOPA failed. But the bones of the White House plan, based on a report by United States Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel, hew pretty closely to the ideas embodied in SOPA and PIPA.

It applauds ISPs like Comcast, Cablevision, Verizon and Time Warner Cable, who are now the the front line for enforcing access restrictions and takedown orders. McCullagh notes:

The White House did say that it wouldn’t endorse a bill that endangers freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risks, or negatively affects the DNS system. On the other hand, it says elsewhere that “combating online infringement”—not protecting free speech—is a governmental priority “of the highest order.”

We lack even the most basic evidence to understand the impact of piracy. In fact, the Government Accountability Office weighed in on piracy estimates, calling all of them suspect.

Yet the government is getting ready to once again propose new laws. Crappy data makes for crappy laws, something Bill Patry pointed out in more eloquent terms in his most recent book.

So why would online infringement become “a governmental priority of highest order?” In McCullagh’s report, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Julie Samuels puts it plainly: “It’s pretty easy to read between the lines.”

I’m not arguing against appropriate enforcement, but shutting down access to sites without due process is an effective form of prior restraint.  If we can muster enough collective energy to push through bills that erode legal protections, surely we can take a bit of time to offer evidence that explains why we need to do so.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.