White House Wades into Piracy Legislation Debate

Officials with the Obama administration said the White House will not support anti-piracy bills that endanger cybersecurity or freedom of expression on the Web.

Officials with the Obama administration said the White House will not support anti-piracy bills that endanger cybersecurity or freedom of expression on the Web.

In a post Saturday on the White House blog, three top technology officials for the administration – Victoria Espinel, intellectual property enforcement coordinator at the Office of Management and Budget; Aneesh Chopra, the country’s chief technology officer; and Howard Schmidt, cybersecurity coordinator for the national security staff – said the White House will not support legislation that “reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.”

“Any effort to combat online piracy,” the trio said in the joint statement, “must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small…To minimize this risk, new legislation must be narrowly targeted only at sites beyond the reach of current U.S. law, cover activity clearly prohibited under existing U.S. laws, and be effectively tailored, with strong due process and focused on criminal activity.”

“Any provision covering Internet intermediaries such as online advertising networks, payment processors, or search engines must be transparent and designed to prevent overly broad private rights of action that could encourage unjustified litigation that could discourage startup businesses and innovative firms from growing,” the statement continues.

The statement was posted a day after the lead sponsor of the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) agreed to remove a provision from the bill that would require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block subscribers from accessing foreign Websites accused of violating U.S. copyright laws.

“After consultation with industry groups across the country, I feel we should remove Domain Name System blocking from the Stop Online Piracy Act so that the Committee can further examine the issues surrounding this provision,” Congressman Lamar Smith, (R-Texas), said in a statement Jan. 13. “We will continue to look for ways to ensure that foreign websites cannot sell and distribute illegal content to U.S. consumers.”

“Current law protects the rights of American innovators by prohibiting the illegal sale and distribution of their products by domestic websites,” he added. “But there is no equivalent protection for American companies from foreign online criminals who steal and sell American goods to consumers around the world. Congress must address the widespread problem of online theft of America’s technology and products from foreign thieves.”

Critics of SOPA – and the similar Protect IP Act (PIPA) before the Senate – have charged that the bills could hamper innovation and promote Internet censorship. Additionally, Web users could be driven to unreliable DNS servers to get around ISP blockades, which could threaten cyber-security, the White House officials noted in their joint statement.

The officials said the White House is calling on lawmakers to pass legislation this year that provides both prosecutors and copyright holders with new legal tools to combat piracy, and will work with Congress to pass rules that do not compromise security, privacy or freedom of expression. 

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