OUR OPINION: Take another look at online bills

By NEMS Daily Journal

Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. this week tempered his support of legislation originally intended to crack down on out-of-the-country websites violating intellectual property rights, a cause widely supported in principle, but which has produced congressional bills considered full of unintended, harmful consequences.
Cochran is a co-sponsor of the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011 – called PIPA – bill in the Senate, a parallel of the SOPA – Stop Online Piracy Act – originating in the House and co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee, R-Miss., a Tupelo resident.
The bills, before support began falling away, were thoroughly bipartisan, but concerns about abridgment of First Amendment free speech rights and burdensome over-regulation have given a rising number of supporters pause on both sides of the aisle.
Cochran’s reservation, made public in a release from his Washington office, said great caution is needed. Cochran is reserved about attaching his name to any kind of legislation, and when he pulls back on support, concern justifying re-examination is clearly signaled.
The intent had been for new laws to protect American business interests operating on the Internet from foreign criminal elements.
The communication from Cochran’s office said “the senator hopes that the legislation will be changed to address legitimate concerns about how the bill would affect law-abiding U.S. businesses.”
In particular, the bills had been aimed at protecting jobs and property in the film and entertainment industries related to product use on websites.
The bills as they exist have created a sharp split between what’s generally called “Hollywood” and Internet service providers.
The conservative group, Americans for Limited Government, said in an Internet release, “There simply is no constituency for legislation that, in the name of protecting copyright, institutionalizes a system of blocking entire Websites, removing visibility from search engines, and targeting ad providers, all based merely on the accusation of intellectual property theft. Existing law already provides for the removal of copyrighted material from the Internet domestically, and dealing with foreign infringement requires diplomacy with relevant nations overseas, not a regime of censorship …”
Opponents are additionally concerned about abridgment of what’s called “safe harbor” protections in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), fearing sites like YouTube, Flickr, and NCAAbbs could be eliminated.
The Obama administration also has clearly signaled its reservations.
Against that groundswell of opposition and concern we believe both chambers should delay indefinitely consideration until First Amendment and liability concerns have been fully addressed.