The Obama administration has weighed in on the side of protecting the internet’s openness and architecture in the controversial debate around the Stop Online Piracy Act. At the same time it said it does not condone piracy, which it says is an attack on America’s economy.
In an official White House blog, US President Barack Obama’s chief technology officer Aneesh Chopra, along with his cyber security co-ordinator Howard Schmidt and intellectual property enforcer Victoria Espinel, argued it is vital that online piracy is combated at the same time as ensuring the internet remains open and innovative.
They said that while they believe online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, they say the Obama administration will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cyber security risks and undermines a dynamic and innovative global internet.
They were clear that they view online piracy as a real problem that harms the US economy and threatens jobs, creativity and entrepreneurship.
“Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small.
“Across the globe, the openness of the internet is increasingly central to innovation in business, government and society, and it must be protected. To minimise this risk, new legislation must be narrowly targeted only at sites beyond the reach of current US law, cover activity clearly prohibited under existing US laws, and be effectively tailored, with strong due process and focused on criminal activity.
“Any provision covering internet intermediaries, such as online advertising networks, payment processors or search engines, must be transparent and designed to prevent overly broad private rights of action that could encourage unjustified litigation that could discourage start-up businesses and innovative firms from growing."
The White House said it is also vital to avoid creating new cyber security risks or disrupting the underlying architecture of the internet.
“Proposed laws must not tamper with the technical architecture of the internet through manipulation of the domain name system (DNS), a foundation of internet security.
“Our analysis of the DNS filtering provisions in some proposed legislation suggests that they pose a real risk to cyber security and yet leave contraband goods and services accessible online.
“We must avoid legislation that drives users to dangerous, unreliable DNS servers and puts next-generation security policies, such as the deployment of DNSSEC, at risk."
Obama and Google invite the wrath of Rupert
At the weekend, News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch, who is newly arrived on Twitter but nevertheless making quite a splash, put forth his views on the whole SOPA debate and the Obama administration’s decision to weigh in.
“So Obama has thrown in his lot with Silicon Valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy, plain thievery," Murdoch tweeted.
He also attacked Google and tweeted it "streams movies free, sells advts around them. No wonder pouring millions into lobbying."
Google, which recently signed an open letter on the matter of SOPA warning of censorship and a threat to the internet’s architecture, according to CNET has taken dispute with Murdoch’s words and said that last year it had taken down some 5bn pages worth of infringing material and has invested US$60m in fighting bad ads. "We fight pirates and counterfeiters every day," Google has reportedly railed.
Tim O’Reilly: don’t close off the frontier
Writing on Google+, Irish-born prominent US tech publisher Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media welcomed the Obama administration’s moderate approach but disputed the level of economic harm the White House suggests has been inflicted on America’s economy.
“In the entire discussion, I’ve seen no discussion of credible evidence of this economic harm. There’s no question in my mind that piracy exists, that people around the world are enjoying creative content without paying for it, and even that some criminals are profiting by redistributing it. But is there actual economic harm?
“In my experience at O’Reilly, the losses due to piracy are far outweighed by the benefits of the free flow of information, which makes the world richer, and develops new markets for legitimate content. Most of the people who are downloading unauthorised copies of O’Reilly books would never have paid us for them anyway; meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of others are buying content from us, many of them in countries that we were never able to do business with when our products were not available in digital form.
“History shows us, again and again, that frontiers are lawless places, but that as they get richer and more settled, they join in the rule of law. American publishing, now the largest publishing industry in the world, began with piracy.
“Congress (and the White House) need to spend time thinking hard about how best to grow our economy – and that means being careful not to close off the frontier, or to harm those trying to settle it, in order to protect those who want to remain safe at home. British publishers could have come to America in the 19th century; they chose not to, and as a result, we grew our own indigenous publishing industry, which relied at first, in no small part, on pirating British and European works," O’Reilly said.