I strongly oppose the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) in the U.S. House and PROTECT-IP Act (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate, which U.S. Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) has co-sponsored, because these proposed bills pose grave constitutional problems concerning our right to free speech and due process of law. Senator Casey has a track record of supporting legislation that violates due process, the Rule of Law and the United States Constitution, including most recently his vote for the National Defense Authorization Act. Senator Casey is at it again.
Senator Casey’s PIPA allows a court, upon application by a federal prosecutor that a foreign website is “dedicated to infringing activities,” to compel all U.S. Internet service providers, domain name registries, domain name registrars, and operators of domain name servers to prevent the offending website’s domain name from getting into the correct IP address. This ham-fisted approach by the federal government not only compels private Internet companies to assist the government in its efforts to combat online piracy and trademark infringement, but does so in such a way that strikes at the core of the Internet – the fundamental principle of world-wide interconnectivity.
PIPA will also empower holders of copyrights and trademarks and the U.S. Government to bring legal action against any law-abiding and non-infringing website, blog or Internet-set provider on whose site or through whose search engine there is a reference or connection to an infringing site or infringing content. This proposed law may compel any individual or company that uses the Internet to police the content of the material and hold that individual or company liable for any infringing content that makes its way onto its site. Bloggers could be legally responsible for any infringing content that appears on theirs blogs, including “comments” posted by “anonymous.” This may cause many bloggers and small website operators to shut down.
SOPA, PIPA’s sister legislation proceeding through the House of Representatives, is even worse. Among other offending provisions, SOPA “deputizes” copyright and trademark owners to proceed vigilante-like to compel payment processors from doing business with an Internet site the copyright or trademark owner believes is infringing by simply sending a “cease and desist” notice – all without going to court, without providing the other party with notice and a hearing and without a court order vindicating its claim. The government’s “blunderbus” approach will result in many non-infringing websites, and thus speech, being shut down and blocked. This is a clear case of “prior restraint” on speech, which is the most serious infringement of the First Amendment right to free speech.
Although online copyright and trademark infringement are serious problems, empowering the government to “impress” private web companies into law enforcement, holding non-infringing sites liable for references or connections to infringing sites or content and “deputizing” certain IP holders and allowing them to slap “prior restraints” on speech without due process of law are not the right solutions to the problem. Please help me stop Senator Casey from causing serious harm to the freedom and functioning of the Internet and from launching additional assaults on our individual, fundamental right to free speech and the right to due process of law as enshrined in our Constitution.