We already know that today's SOPA hearings for the House Judiciary Committee are totally stacked
in favor of the bill. But with the hearings getting underway, we wanted to dive in and look at what's about to be said. Most of the testimony leaked out yesterday, allowing us to spend some time going through it -- it's all embedded below. However, here's a taste of what's going to be said... with some additional commentary (of course).
First up, the most troubling of all: Maria Pallante, the Register of Copyrights (aka, Head of the US Copyright Office). She should
be here to defend the public
and to make sure that massive regulatory capture by a couple of stagnant industries doesn't happen. But, that's not how the Copyright Office rolls. Instead, her testimony is basically the US Chamber of Commerce's key talking points (perhaps not a surprise, since the main lobbyist at the US Chamber who's in charge of shepherding this bill into law only recently worked at the US Copyright Office
). If you had hoped for some reasoned argument about pushing back on the massive excesses of SOPA and the broad definitions, you're not going to get it from Pallante.
It is my view that if Congress does not continue to provide serious responses to online piracy, the U.S. copyright system will ultimately fail. The premise of copyright law is that the author of a creative work owns and can license to others certain exclusive rights – a premise that has served the nation well since 1790. Congress has repeatedly acted to improve enforcement provisions in copyright law over the years, including in the online environment. SOPA is the next step in ensuring that our law keeps pace with infringers....
The response provided by SOPA is serious and comprehensive. It requires all key members of the online ecosystem, including service providers, search engines, payment processors, and advertising networks, to play a role in protecting copyright interests – an approach I endorse. Combating online infringement requires focus and commitment. It should be obvious that we cannot have intermediaries working at cross-purposes.
In other words, the successful tech industry should be hindered and shackled because my friends in Hollywood are too clueless to adjust their business models. Really?
SOPA is also measured. It appropriately provides much broader tools and flexibility to the Attorney General than it provides to copyright owners. This is a sound policy choice at this time. The Department of Justice has experience fighting online infringers, will use resources carefully, must exercise prosecutorial discretion in bringing actions, and must plead its case to the court and obtain a court-issued order before proceeding. Put another way, while the copyright industries are extremely important (and certainly a point of pride with respect to the U.S. economy), SOPA recognizes that many sectors rely on, invest in, and contribute to the success of the Internet.
Almost none of that is accurate. It is not measured. It is vague, broad and dangerous. The Justice Department's "experience" going after infringers has been to take down websites with no notice based on false info from copyright holders... and then to threaten those who seek to appeal with criminal charges. This is not "using resources carefully," it's government sponsored censorship.
It is for this reason that SOPA puts only limited tools in the hands of copyright owners, and provides the Attorney General with the sole authority to seek orders against search engines and Internet service providers. This is not to say that we should not continue to assess Internet piracy and the impact of SOPA or whether additional measures or adjustments may be needed. Indeed, SOPA assigns ongoing studies to the Copyright Office and the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator for these very purposes. But I do think SOPA provides the right calibration at this time.
First off, the "limited tools" include the ability to completely cut off funding to any website based solely on accusations. Perhaps I learned a different language from Pallante, but that's hardly "limited."
Furthermore, how the hell can she say that this is "the right calibration," when even she admits this issue has not been studied yet? The bill is completely "shoot first, measure later," with no details on how it's effectiveness -- or harmfulness -- will be measured.
As with any legislation, SOPA deserves and can only benefit from a robust discussion. As the Committee works to further improve and refine the bill, I know it will fully consider a variety of perspectives and suggestions, including from my fellow witnesses. This said, I believe that Congress has a responsibility to protect the exclusive rights of copyright owners, and I urge the Committee to move forward with this in mind.
Yes, a robust discussion that leaves out nearly everyone opposed to the bill, and only allows a single party -- one easily dismissed -- to speak about concerns on the bill. A robust discussion that leaves out public interest groups, despite Copyright's entire purpose being for the benefit of the public. This is a shameful bit of testimony from the Head of the Copyright Office, and one that guarantees her a tarnished legacy in her role.
From there, she goes on to defend the US blacklist of sites the Attorney General decides are dedicated to infringement by (1) repeating the US Chamber's debunked talking points, (2) praising ICE's highly questionable domain seizures, which are currently being litigated (a fact she conveniently ignores) and (3) quoting (of course) Floyd Abrams, leaving out that he was paid by the MPAA to give that opinion. Even worse, she quotes the really questionable part of his claim:
It also bears repeating that injunctions are not at odds with the First Amendment. As noted First Amendment scholar Floyd Abrams has observed, they are "a longstanding, constitutionally sanctioned way to remedy and prevent copyright violations."
This is true, but highly
misleading. Injunctions are allowed against those infringing
. But that's not what SOPA is about. SOPA is about issuing injunctions on innocent third parties. That's what we're concerned about. And for Pallante to ignore that point is really unfortunate.
She then goes on to defend the private right of action to kill off websites based on a single accusation. She claims, laughably, that because the private right of action only leads to injunctions, rather than monetary rewards, there's little incentive to abuse. Wait. Is Ms. Pallante totally ignorant of the past decade plus of the DMCA? The DMCA takedown process also is basically about blocking content and not about monetary relief, and yet it's widely
abused, with some estimates suggesting that over 30% of DMCA takedowns are questionable. The problem with SOPA (totally ignored again) is that unlike the DMCA -- which targets the specific content -- SOPA will kill off entire sites.
Even more stunning: rather than suggesting that such abuses may come from copyright holders sending bogus takedowns, she worries instead that payment processors and ad networks may ignore such takedowns -- and hints that if anything, the bill may need refinement on that front. Whoa. It's like an alternative universe where everything is mirrored. Again, we know what happens. We have the less draconian DMCA already and see how widely it's abused. And we see that those who receive takedowns generally abide by them.
Speaking of the DMCA, she pretends -- totally against the text of the actual bill -- that nothing in SOPA will impact the DMCA. This is hilarious. Why would anyone use the DMCA to take down a specific piece of content when they can now kill off an entire site using SOPA? Amusingly, she points to the fact that payment providers and ad networks face no monetary liability under SOPA... but ignores that just two paragraphs above, she was hinting that perhaps the law should be changed to include such liability to make sure they comply. This is the ultimate in cynical, obnoxious politics. Put in that one clause that makes you able to pretend something is reasonable (no monetary punishment!) and then be ready to remove that the second the bill is in place.
Finally, she talks about how "pleased" she is that SOPA turns streaming into a felony. Apparently Pallante would prefer people no longer stream videos any more. Has she even used the internet? Amusingly, she cites YouTube as an example of a legal source for streaming... ignoring the fact that under SOPA, YouTube likely wouldn't have even existed. It's as if she doesn't even understand the bill she's supporting and what it will do to the technology world.
And people wonder why so many Americans think copyright law is a joke? Perhaps they should look at the Copyright boss.
Next, we've got MPAA VP Michael O'Leary. His testimony is really worthy of having been written in Hollywood, seeing as it kicks off with a tearjerker of a story about the poor, poor stunt coordinator, "who depends on the residual payments he earns to help support his wife and three children between productions." Of course, the rest of the world doesn't get to sit back and get a check for work they did in the past, but actually has to keep working to support their families. Of course, how much do random key grips, stunt coordinators and boom mic operators (the favorites for these multi-millionaires to exploit in this kind of way) really make from residuals? It's a lot less than these kinds of testimonies suggest.
O'Leary continues to pull at heart strings, by trying to rope all sorts of other businesses into the movie and TV industry including (I'm not joking) the dry cleaners that serve the cast and crew on location. Apparently, without movies, dry cleaners go out of business. Think of the poor dry cleaners!