SOPA, PIPA Stalled: Meet the OPEN Act

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SOPA and PIPA may have been put on hold -- thanks to possibly the most contentious uproar seen on Capitol Hill and in the tech world ever -- but other legislation was introduced this week to combat online piracy.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California) introduced H.R. 3782, the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday, the same day as an Internet protest when a number of high-profile websites such as Wikipedia went dark. Issa says the new bill delivers stronger intellectual property rights for American artists and innovators while protecting the openness of the Internet. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) has introduced the OPEN Act in the U.S. Senate.

OPEN would give oversight to the International Trade Commission (ITC) instead of the Justice Department, focuses on foreign-based websites, includes an appeals process, and would apply only to websites that "willfully" promote copyright violation. SOPA and PIPA, in contrast, would enable content owners to take down an entire website, even if just one page on it carried infringing content, and imposed sanctions after accusations -- not requiring a conviction.

Darrell Issa (R-California)
According to Issa’s site KeepTheWebOpen, which elucidates the bill in its entirety and asks for people to comment on it, “If the ITC investigation finds that a foreign registered website is ‘primarily’ and ‘willfully’ infringing on the IP rights of a U.S. rights holder, the commission would issue a cease and desist order that would compel payment processors (like Visa and Paypal) and online advertising providers to cease doing business with the foreign site in question. This would cut off financial incentives for this illegal activity and deter these unfair imports from reaching the U.S. market.”

OPEN has received support from technology giants such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and others, but the Motion Picture Association of America complains in a statement (PDF) that the bill goes easy on Internet piracy.

Hollywood’s staunch and powerful support of SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) in the House, and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act) in the Senate is much maligned. In fact, one influential Silicon Valley investment firm says Hollywood is dying and it plans to help kill it by funding startups that will compete with movies and TV.

“The people who run [Hollywood] are so mean and so politically connected that they could do a lot of damage to civil liberties and the world economy on the way down. It would therefore be a good thing if competitors hastened their demise,” reads a post on Y Combinator’s website, which also argues that file-sharing isn’t going to be what kills movies and TV, better ways to entertain people will.

Click to Zoom: Chart Compares SOPA, PIPA, and OPEN Act
Regardless of what investment firms, technology companies, Hollywood or Washington think, piracy isn’t going to go away and the future of an open Internet is still not secure with SOPA and PIPA merely tabled and not entirely abandoned.

And ironically, in the midst of all the debate and tumult, the United States government on Thursday took down MegaUpload and charged its New Zealand operators with piracy. The action “demonstrates why we don’t need SOPA in the first place, points out PCWorld’s Tony Bradley.

In retaliation for the government’s action, the hacker group Anonymous is claiming responsibility for attacks that have felled websites run by Universal Music, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Recording Industry Association of America.

Clearly, this quarrelsome issue will not be cleared up any time soon, but OPEN might be a good alternative to bring people closer to being on the same page.

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