The online firestorm that erupted over the
consideration of SOPA and PIPA — the federal
anti-piracy bills — effectively killed the legislation
for 2012. Yet it’s imperative that the push
for serious legislation addressing online piracy
Passing legislation that cuts off access to
rogue sites isn’t a partisan issue — it’s not
Silicon Valley versus the entertainment industry,
or creators versus consumers. It’s in everyone’s
interest to shut down these web pages.
With that in mind, new anti-piracy legislation
should be crafted in a consensus-driven, bipartisan
fashion, incorporating the justified concerns
that killed the older bills, while still retaining
those core provisions needed to address the
rogue site problem.
Rogue websites mainly sell two kinds of products:
knockoffs of consumer goods like shoes, handbags
and prescription drugs; and pirated media content,
including illicit copies of music, movies, e-books
and computer software.
These sites can seriously hurt consumers by
selling shoddy or outright dangerous products.
And they hurt the American economy by undermining
intellectual property (IP) protections — a crucial
incentive for innovation.
Since many of these sites are based on foreign
soil, they operate outside the jurisdiction
of U.S. law enforcement. Congress was considering
bills to provide American officials with the
legal tools they need to choke off the money
and traffic flowing to these sites. These bills
would have authorized the Department of Justice
to file a civil action against sites devoted
to counterfeiting or piracy.
A crackdown on rogue websites would be especially
welcomed by those industries that rely heavily
on IP. When rogue sites sell products violating
IP laws, they take away revenues from legitimate
businesses. And as IP-intensive industries go,
so goes the American economy generally. These
sectors are responsible for a stunning 60 percent
of all U.S. exports. They contribute roughly
$7.7 trillion to the economy every year. And,
most notably at a time of sustained anemic job
growth, these industries employ more than 19
But it’s not just businesses that are hurt by
rogue sites. Consumers are also directly threatened
by those who offer illegal copies of goods.
Counterfeit prescription drugs, medical equipment
or auto parts can seriously risk consumers’
Unsurprisingly, rogue sites are also a major
source of computer viruses. The security firm
McAfee released a wide-ranging survey that found
that these sites “harbor the majority of malware
that is used to attack consumers, enterprises
One of the chief criticisms of PIPA/SOPA was
that they amounted to censorship and choked
off valuable free speech. Yet we don’t call
it “censorship” when the FBI blocks access to
a website peddling child pornography, or providing
training to terrorists. If a website actively
violates the law, shutting it down is simply
the execution of justice.
One of the benefits of January’s “blackout”
protest — in which a number of high profile
sites like Wikipedia and Reddit shut down for
the day — is that it brought the issue of rogue
sites to the forefront of the national consciousness.
Unfortunately online activists too often resorted
to hyperbole and scare tactics about the bills
to get their message across. Nonetheless, the
American people are much more familiar with
the issue and its complexities. And that means
there is fertile soil for a new, reformed, consensus-driven
effort for anti-online piracy legislation.
No one wants to smother the innovation that
has made the Internet such a profound tool of
learning, connection and creation. The fight
against rogue sites should focus on what all
sides can agree on — it’s crucial to stop rogue
websites from flaunting IP laws, hurting American
innovation and polluting browsers’ computers.
Next session, Congress should craft and pass
smart, targeted legislation based on that consensus.
If not, businesses, artists and everyday consumers
will continue to get hurt. CV
Douglas E. Schoen is a political strategist
and Fox News contributor. Schoen, who served
as a pollster for President Bill Clinton, is
also the author of several books. Follow him
on Twitter @DouglasESchoen.