Senator Ron Wyden (who just joined Twitter
) was kind enough to send over the remarks he made to the Senate Judiciary Committee concerning COICA
. It's an excellent read that highlights many of the points we've been making. Basically, he says that we need to be careful not to decimate basic principles of free speech and create all sorts of collateral damage in an effort to go after a few bad actors who can be targeted via other laws:
Make no mistake, I share the committee's goal of fighting counterfeiting and protecting our creative industries and the good paying jobs they support. The Internet has unquestionably created new opportunities to traffic in counterfeit and illegal goods. The fact that the law has not always kept pace with technology may make it easier for bad actors to exploit new opportunities. Congress is right to want to go after those who are "stealing American intellectual property." However, in writing laws to target the bad actors, Congress cannot afford to forget that the primary uses of the Internet are activities protected by the First Amendment, not civil or criminal violations.
Yes, the Internet needs reasonable laws and bad actors need to be pursued, but the freedoms of billions of individual Internet users cannot be sacrificed in the interest of easing that pursuit. The decisions we make to police the Internet today will also govern how this relatively new medium will continue to develop and shape our world. I objected to last year's Combating Online Infringement of Copyrights Act not because it might reduce the Internet's ability to facilitate infringement, but because I believe it went about it in a way that would also reduce the Internet's ability to promote democracy, commerce and free speech.
He also laid out six specific points to consider in dealing with these issues. I agree with all six, and am particularly happy to see him mention the importance of separating counterfeiting from copyright protection, a key point that we've discussed here, but I had not seen anyone in politics pick up on until now.
- Don't be hasty. Good public policy is not made on the back of a galloping horse. While both Congress and law enforcement are understandably eager to go after bad actors, both must be mindful of the precedents that they are setting in the U.S. and around the world. The law is best applied when the government's assertions can be challenged before its actions are approved.
- Avoid collateral damage. Granting law enforcement broad authority to censor online content has a chilling effect on free speech. Narrowly focus law enforcement’s authority on those who are deliberately breaking the law or infringing on others’ property rights for commercial gain.
- Preserve Fair Use and secondary liability protections. These safeguards are fundamental to Internet commerce and explain why American companies have been so successful in the global marketplace. The network effect is such a powerful driver of commerce on the Internet that any restriction on links and referrals is a serious barrier to economic activity.
- Be mindful of how remedies can threaten and shape the integrity or architecture of the Internet. Decisions made today can have lasting results.
- Avoid taking actions that will empower foreign regimes to censor the Internet. The United States has led the world in promoting free speech; our example cannot be allowed to give authoritarian regimes any excuse to go backwards.
- Recognize the difference between copyright infringement and counterfeits. A one-size-fits-all approach towards trademarks and copyright may not be appropriate.
Once again, it's great to see Senator Wyden speaking out on these issues, but it's shame that he remains one of our only elected officials willing to pay attention to the problems with COICA and domain seizures.