A Clueless Congressman on SOPA

Building codes and zoning laws have been used to deny the right of churches to establish or continue the operation of Christian schools. The IRS tried to impose racial and ethnic quotas on Christian schools during the Carter administration to deny tax exemption to schools that refused to comply with its “guidelines.” There was such a hue and outcry by Christians and conservatives – this was decades before the internet – that the guidelines were dropped. The pretext was “Civil rights.” A school was guilty of racial discrimination until it could prove it wasn’t.

Consider RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. This government enforcement law was designed to go after organized crime. Sounds like a good thing. But once politicians and judicial activists started mining it for open doors, loopholes, and flexible interpretations, RICO became a wax nose that has been used to go after political opponents, from the Hells Angels and Major League Baseball to pro-life advocates who were against abortion on demand.

Now we have SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act). Like hell, these laws are paved with good intentions. Even Republicans fell for it. Here’s a letter that one of my employees received from Republican Congressman Phil Gingrey of Georgia. Notice how he begins by pointing out that the bill was introduced by a Republican. We’re to believe that since a Republican was behind it, it must be a good thing:

Dear Joseph:

Thank you for contacting me to express your opinion regarding H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act. As your Congressman, I appreciate hearing your thoughts and welcome every opportunity to be of service.

 As you are aware, H.R. 3261 was introduced by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) on October 26, 2011. If enacted, it would allow the Attorney General to seek injunctions against foreign websites that steal and sell American innovations and products. This legislation also prevents online thieves from selling counterfeit goods in the U.S., expands international protections for intellectual property (IP), and protects American consumers from dangerous counterfeit products. H.R. 3261 was referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary, where it is currently awaiting further action.

 The growth of the Internet over the past 15 years has led to numerous technological advances. Unfortunately, these advances in technology have also led to the theft of IP – particularly music and movies.

 According to a 2008 MarkMonitor study, counterfeit or rogue websites dedicated to IP theft cost legitimate businesses of all sizes across the country an estimated $135 billion annually. Currently, American IP industries provide 19 million high-paying jobs to the U.S. economy and account for more than 60% of U.S. exports.

 At a time when millions of Americans are out of work, we must find commonsense ways to protect industries – including the IP industry – that support millions of jobs. Although I am not a member of the Judiciary Committee, please be assured that I will keep your thoughts in mind should H.R. 3261 come before the full House for a vote.

 Again, thank you for sharing your concerns. If you feel that I may be of additional assistance on this, or any other matter of importance to you, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

Rep. Phil Gingrey

 

There is nothing in the letter that actually addresses the concerns that millions of people have expressed. They know the history of good laws that go bad. Here’s an example from Wikipedia that is a good summary of the law’s problems:

User-content websites such as YouTube would be greatly affected, and concern has been expressed that they may be shut down if the bill becomes law. Opponents state the legislation would enable law enforcement to remove an entire internet domain due to something posted on a single blog, arguing that an entire online community could be punished for the actions of a tiny minority. In a 1998 law, copyright owners are required to request the site to remove the infringing material within a certain amount of time. SOPA would bypass this “safe harbor” provision by placing the responsibility for detecting and policing infringement onto the site itself.

You may remember when the Fairness Doctrine was in place until the Reagan Administration got it repealed. Most stations did not want to have programming that included controversial material because any Tom, Dick, or Harry could petition for equal time.

What sounds good on paper is a devil in the details.

As expected, Harry Reid remains clueless. He plans to bring the Senate’s version of the legislation to a vote on January 24. Reid rejected a request by six Senators for a postponement, saying “this is an issue that is too important to delay.”