Saturday, January 21, 2012

My Congressman, Rush Holt, On the Subject of S.O.P.A.

I am so lucky to be represented in Congress by  Rush Holt -- who is not only a  thoughtful, moral politician ( I know, unheard of )  but also really IS a rocket scientist.  He has a PhD in physics from NYU and was an academic before he became a politician.  He is also the only Quaker currently serving in Congress.

I received this email from his office this morning explaining his view on  S.O.P.A ( the stop online piracy act)   His view is so cogent and well thought out  I want to share it here on my blog as it has implications that go far beyond the 12th Congressional District of New Jersey.  

On Wednesday, Wikipedia and hundreds of other websites participated in a one-day blackout, removing services from the internet to protest the so-called Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).  On that day alone, more than 1,000 New Jerseyans contacted me to oppose the legislation.  They are right to be concerned:  as written, SOPA would undermine the security, competitiveness, and freedom of the internet.  Although the problem of online piracy – the theft of copyrighted music, movies, and writing – exists, SOPA is a poor solution.

In an unusually specific clause in our Constitution, the framers provided copyright protection for people who compose and create "to promote the progress of science and the useful arts."  In their genius they recognized that, by granting exclusive copyrights to creative individuals, the government actually could enhance creativity and communication throughout society.
Nowadays, technology has pushed down the cost of illegal copying, leading to a dramatic increase in infringement.  So what to do?  Ban photocopies?  Ban computers?  Ban the internet?  That would be foolish.  Yet SOPA veers too far toward the extreme of hampering useful technology.

Under SOPA’s extremely broad language, entire websites – such as YouTube or Wikipedia – could be removed from the internet if even one or two users posted pirated material.  The mechanism for these takedowns would compromise the internet’s infrastructure, the domain name system, in a way that would leave users more vulnerable to fraud.  Even worse, SOPA would allow copyright holders to demand punitive actions without first facing an open hearing in a court of law.  Groups as diverse as the American Library Association, Human Rights First, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Freedom House have warned against the bill’s stifling effect on the internet.

We can find a better approach to preventing theft of creative products without killing the creative process or public communication.  Existing law already enables copyright holders to demand that U.S. websites remove infringing content.  That protection could be expanded by allowing the International Trade Commission to cut off payments, after a fair and transparent process, to websites that willfully and primarily infringe on copyrighted material.  A bipartisan alternative striking this reasonable balance is making its way through Congressional committee examination.

  I'll be watching to see what this " bipartisan alternative" consists of, but in the meantime, it is nice to know that my Congressman remembers who he works for, unlike so many in Washington.  BTW  I got the picture of him I used in this post from his Facebook Page   where you can go to find out more about him.

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