Thursday, January 19, 2012

Congressman Paul Gosar: SOPA A Flawed Policy


Bloggers Corner – SOPA A FLAWED POLICY

They say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.  Nowhere is that more true than in Congress.  Too often, some members of Congress want to be seen as “doing something” about a problem, or “caring” about people or constituencies, they support bills that sound good in principle, but have disastrous unintended consequences.  So far, in my short time in the House of Representatives, one of the clearest and most obvious examples of this bad habit has been the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). 

SOPA is designed to curb illegal online activity and protect intellectual property rights, particularly from foreign websites that are outside the jurisdiction of U.S. Courts.   Under current law, it is relatively easy to enforce copyright infringement against American-based websites. If American websites directly engage in this kind of illegal activity, they can be prosecuted in a fairly simple, conventional fashion.  However, it is more difficult to do so with foreign websites, since they are difficult to track and our judicial system has no jurisdiction over these sites.  SOPA attempts to fix this problem by allowing the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and American copyright holders to request American websites such as search engines, payment services or advertising networks that do business with offending websites be shut down.  Essentially, the DOJ could force internet service providers to effectively prevent all access to these illegal websites. While this sounds good in theory, the legal language is far too broad and would likely ensnare more well intentioned people than it would catch and punish genuine online pirates.

Put simply, SOPA would enable the U.S. government to block Internet content for unimportant, vague or non-existent reasons. Sites that “enable or facilitate” copyright infringement could be shut down for a single, unintentional infringement by one of their users.  Essentially, it is theoretically possible for Twitter to be shut down because a random person with a Twitter account posted a copyrighted picture.  This may sound farfetched, but the language of the law is sufficiently broad to allow for these kinds of abuses.   Additionally, there is no guarantee that this power would be used evenhandedly.  There is little to stop the government from targeting its political opponents for technical or even non-existent breaches of the law, claiming copyright violations while their true motivation is to silence political opponents or otherwise unpopular speech. 

While copyright infringement is wrong and should be prosecuted, legislation such as SOPA and the Senate version known as the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) is clearly not the proper way to address this problem.  As I have traveled across rural Arizona, many rural Arizonans – Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, have expressed grave concerns about the legislation.  My phones rang off the hook today as Google, Wikipedia, Craigslist and other major websites participated in an organized campaign to inform people about the hazards of this bill. 

My colleague Paul Ryan (R-WI), Chairman of the House Budget Committee, said it best, recently stating that "The internet is one of the most magnificent expressions of freedom and free enterprise in history. It should stay that way. While the Stop Online Piracy Act attempts to address a legitimate problem, I believe it creates the precedent and possibility for undue regulation, censorship and legal abuse.  I do not support (SOPA) in its current form and will oppose the legislation should it come before the full House." 
I could not have said it better.  The mere fact that we have a problem does not make every potential fix for it a good idea, far from it. It is critical Congress implements proper reforms to address this issue because once the expansion of this authority is given to the DOJ, it will be extremely difficult to get back. Our economic freedom and freedom of speech, fundamental constitutionally given rights, are too valuable to risk giving these sweeping powers to the federal government.
Too many problems have been caused by professional, career politicians who think they know everything and don’t take into account potential, unintended consequences of well intentioned pieces of legislation.  That is why I oppose SOPA and that is why I will fight against this misguided legislation and all other forms of federal overreach. 

Apryl Marie Fogel,
Congressman Paul Gosar, D.D.S., AZ - 1                      

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