Last night a proposed law passing through the United States Congress was blocked by Obama.
California congressman Darrell Issa, an opponent of Sopa, the Stop Online Piracy Act, said he had been told by House majority leader Eric Cantor that there would be no vote unless there is consensus on the bill.
Congressional leaders are preparing to shelve controversial legislation aimed at tackling online piracy after president Barack Obama said he would not support it.
The tech community has fought hard to stop Sopa and a rival bill, Protect IP, also known as the Enforcing and Protecting American Rights Against Sites Intent on Theft and Exploitation Act, or the e-Parasite act. Websites including Reddit and Wikipedia are planning to “go dark” on Wednesday in protest against the legislation. Issa said he remained concerned about Protect IP, which will go before the Senate on 24 January.
But both bills now look severely damaged after the White House came out firmly against their biggest proposals at the weekend.
“Let us be clear – online piracy is a real problem that harms the American economy, threatens jobs for significant numbers of middle-class workers and hurts some of our nation’s most creative and innovative companies and entrepreneurs,” the White House said in its first official comment on Sopa and Protect IP.
However, the White House said it would not support legislation that “reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risks or undermines the dynamic, innovative global internet.”
Though it doesn’t get a lot of coverage in mainstream media, and it’s not a well understood issue, the battle between the entertainment industry and the technology sector has been raging for some time. (Rupert Murdoch has weighed into it in the last few days as well). The biggest manifestation of that battle has been the row over online piracy and the punitive laws that countries across the world are being pressured to comply with. Laws that include a provision to disconnect people from the internet from infringing copyright. Laws concerning patents are also under the spotlight.
In New Zealand, there’s a law waiting to complete its passage through parliament which excludes computer software from being patented. The Commerce Committee recommendation, which was accepted by the then Minister Simon Power, believed this would free up NZ software developers to be innovative without fear of being trampled on by big patent suits. Copyright was seen as the appropriate form of protection for software (which is built on code), along with music, books and other creative endeavours. But that law has sat on our books for more than 18 months.
There have been worrying signs for a while that New Zealand’s creative and innovation sector could get caught up in the international battle being waged.
In December, Paul Matthews, the head of the NZ Computer Society wrote a column about how how changes to NZ’s patent law could be caught up in the negotiations going on for the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).
I’ve been watching the SOPA issue develop over the summer with concern. Others may have views about the implications for NZ and our part of the world.
Thankfully Obama has stepped into the fray. The issues are complex. Online piracy is an issue. But it’s mostly an issue because ordinary people can’t access the material they want easily through legal means. Sensible laws are required to protect creators and their intellectual property. Laws and policies are also required to help promote new business models that use the enormous power of the internet to give people more access to services and material and to help spark innovation.
What lies behind this is about who controls the internet. Thankfully the White House seems to understand that.
The two bills aim to tackle online piracy by preventing American search engines like Google and Yahoo from directing users to sites distributing stolen materials. The bills would also allow people and companies to sue if their copyright was being infringed.
The White House expressed concern about both these elements and about passing legislation that threatened the openness of the internet. In the online statement it said any new legislation must be “narrowly targeted”.
Vikram Kumar, the CEO of InternetNZ, a respected and thoughtful think tank, also wrote about the two US laws in yesterday’s NBR. He warned of threats to our national interest by:
laws written by powerful corporates and expeditiously passed into law word-for-word.
He was echoing the sentiments of internet guru Lawrence Lessig, who spoke at last year’s Nethui in NZ about the corruption destroying the United States’ democratic foundations.
Chris Keall from NBR wrote about the streetfight battle in yesterday’s NBR.
These issues aren’t always easy to get your head around. But like most things they have some principles at their core. Ownership of intellectual property is one. Intellectual property means exclusive rights to a variety of intangible assets, such as musical, literary, and artistic works; discoveries and inventions.
Yesterday I got a tip off that the mysterious visit to our shores by a high powered US delegation of congress and senate reps last week wasn’t just about a first-hand look at Christchurch’s earthquake damage. Talks were also being held about the TPPA. Who with? and what was the substance?
I think New Zealand needs to consider its own best interests and the importance of our intellectual property and innovation to our own economy. Quantifying that should be a priority. We can’t sell ourselves short.
We are a lot more than a high protein export nation. I’d like more discussion about this issue across the parliament. The copyright debates we’ve had in the last few years are just a subset of a much bigger economic discussion. What is the value of our IP to our nation?