The top European official dealing with internet matters spoke out publicly against Congressional draft bills penalizing websites for pirating movies as “bad legislation.” Her statement, via Twitter, reflected what her spokesman said was “concern about peoples’ access to the internet.”
The proposed legislation commonly called SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) mandates severe penalties against web companies that allow access to pirated intellectual property. The stipulations are specifically aimed at foreign content-providers who use major U.S. search engines to make their wares available to American consumers. According to the bill’s sponsor in the House, Lamar Smith (R-Texas), its intent is to protect against “from foreign thieves who steal American property rights.”
Critics of the bill say that its provisions are so far-reaching that it could stifle creativity and growth on the web. Officials at major U.S. companies such as Google and Microsoft argue that better targeted antipiracy measures would protect U.S. interests without smothering innovation and continued growth in this sector.
The EU objections seem to be rooted in fears of “extraterritorial” aspects of the proposed law, which would oblige U.S. websites to cut off foreign suppliers accused of piracy.
SOPA has been strongly supported by Hollywood, which says it is losing out financially on its film rights because of piracy activity based in Europe. But SOPA as presently written has also been opposed by the White House as too heavy-handed and potentially stifling for online innovation and web-based economic activity.
The EU is putting in place its own antipiracy regime and seems to be reaching out to the White House to find common ground on this issue.
Encouraged by the Obama administration’s stance, many major American web companies, including Google, Wikipedia, Microsoft, and others, amounted a joint online protest movement in blacking out their sites wholly or partially for a day this week. The protest prompted a handful of key Congressmen to come out against the proposed bill.
“Glad tide is turning on SOPA,” said Neelie Kroes, EU Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, in her widely publicized tweet. “[We] don't need bad legislation when [we] should be safeguarding benefits of open net,” her 116-character message said. In a second tweet she said, “Speeding is illegal too: but you don't put speed bumps on the motorway.”
Congress has now again postponed a vote on the bill, which everyone now expects to be modified before it comes to a vote.
By European Affairs