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Senators Claim Increased Site Seizures Necessary to "Protect US Jobs"


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Senate Committee on the Judiciary hold a hearing entitled "Targeting Websites Dedicated To Stealing American Intellectual Property" in which several Senators emphaszie the need for seizing sites that steal US jobs and harm consumers.

In the wake of the fourth phase of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) ongoing "Operation in Our Sites" campaign the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled "Targeting Websites Dedicated To Stealing American Intellectual Property" yesterday in which a number of Senators expressed their support for the controversial "Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA)."

First proposed last September, the COICA would give the Department of Justice an "expedited process" for cracking down on websites that illegally make copyrighted material available, including the ability to "prevent the importation into the United States of goods and services offered by an Internet site dedicated to infringing activities." It would ostensibly make it even easier for ICE to seize sites it accuses of copyright infringing activities.

During his testimony, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said that he was aware of concerns by some copyright holders that "argue that the legislation did not go far enough" and by others are concerned it "may go too far."

He continued:

While we work to address concerns, let us also be clear that the problem of online infringement is real; it is substantial; and it is a drain on our economy, which costs American jobs. Copyright piracy and the sale of counterfeit goods are reported to cost the American economy billions of dollars annually and hundreds of thousands of lost jobs. A January study found that nearly 24 percent of all Internet traffic worldwide is infringing. That is a staggering number, and the problem is growing. That is why inaction is not an option, and we must pass online infringement legislation in this Congress before rogue websites harm more businesses, and result in more lost jobs.

The problem is that all of these so-called "facts" are completely bogus, and based on little more than biased estimations spewed out by copyright holders with an incentive to always make them appear as dramatic as possible.

Last year the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm, was tasked with quantifying the effects of counterfeit and pirated goods, and discovered that they weren't as simple as lost sales or profits, that each has a range of effects – some negative, others positive. It cited lost profits and tax revenue as negatives for businesses and govt, but that consumers benefited from increased access and lower costs.

"While experts and literature we reviewed provided different examples of effects on the U.S. economy, most observed that despite significant efforts, it is difficult, if not impossible, to quantify the net effect of counterfeiting and piracy on the economy as a whole," it said.

But Senator Leahy doesn't seem to mind the fact that his data is based on guesswork at best, falsehoods at worst. He goes on to compare physical piracy with online piracy, and presses for the need to police websites even if they are owned and operated outside the US.

"We cannot excuse the behavior because it happens on the Internet and the owners operate overseas," he adds. "The Internet needs to be free and open – not lawless."

Emphasizing the need for the Internet to be "free and open" and yet opening the door for any country to seize any site that is owned and operated outside its borders is an odd argument to make.

What if Pakistan also decided that the Internet should not be "lawless" and tries to impose orthodox Islamic or Shariah law? Would we sit by and allow it to seize the sites of the Danish newspapers that published cartoons of the prophet Muhammad? What about sites that encourage people to convert from Islam to Christianity?

Even Senator Al Franken (D-MN) has it all wrong. He seems to think that commercial P2P is the same as noncommercial P2P. Nearly all the file-sharing and linking sites seized by ICE so far were in no way engaged in "online sales of copyrighted content." That's not how file-sharing or streaming sites work. They're not selling anything.

Worse still is the testimony given by the US Chamber of Commerce which reiterated its inane study purporting 53 billion visits to so-called "digital piracy" sites each year, and claiming the number "exposes the staggering scope" of illegal file-sharing.

If you want to talk about real "rogue" actions what about the fact that during ICE's recent site seizure efforts nearly 84,000 websites were shut down by mistake?

Moreover, there exists a glaring lack of due process whereby the govt is seizing sites without site owners ever having a chance to defend themselves either before or after their site is seized.

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