Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Stopping media piracy should be responsibility of overseas law enforcement, not service providers

The current controversy over bills in Congress to oppose Internet piracy (SOPA and Protect-IP), resulting in one-day blackouts at sites like Wikipedia and Reddit, could place an onus on ordinary Internet sellers and publishers and service providers to avoid any contact with “rogue” foreign websites. 

In the United States, sites involved in illegal activity (including piracy, some kinds of spam, drugs, child pornography, etc) can be effectively shut down by seizing hardware and assets of the purportedly offending parties.  This does happen now under Immigrations Customs and Enforcement under Homeland Security.  In some cases, navigation to the affected site is intercepted by an ICE message.

When the offending company or person is in a foreign country, this may not work. Therefore, some in Congress want to burden Internet service providers and ultimately Internet users with the responsibility of not doing business with overseas entities accused by legacy media companies of piracy.  This could make continuation of many sites and smaller businesses impossible because of the “contingent burden” and downstream liability.

One way this problem should be handled is for the US government, through its Department of State, to encourage law enforcement in other countries to take similar action to seize companies in their own countries with blatantly illegal operations.  This will be easier with major western countries (using Interpol) than with Russia and China and maybe some smaller countries.  The responsibility to avoid piracy should rest with law enforcement against actual offenders, not against other users “drafted” into the battle.

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