By Rachel Brody |
Congress should pass rogue site legislation. The Internet is a critical resource for businesses, artists, and entrepreneurs across America, but the promise of better connection and communication with consumers and fans is being steadily eroded by criminal foreign website operators.
An entire underworld of sites exists to market unlicensed, unregulated, and unsafe products to U.S. consumers. They threaten the existence of legitimate businesses online and render economically meaningless the work of small businesses and entrepreneurs whose livelihoods are built around creative and artistic pursuits.
More than 19 million U.S. jobs depend on the intellectual property sector. The Institute for Policy Innovation estimates a more than $58 billion loss to the U.S. economy every year due to copyright theft alone, resulting in more than 373,000 lost American jobs, $16 billion in lost employee earnings, and $3 billion in lost tax revenue.
The impact of IP theft by rogue sites is felt across every creative genre, from romance authors, to church and gospel music songwriters, to indie filmmakers. Authors find their entire career's work packaged together in a single E-book file made available to subscribers of these sites. Independent music labels plagued by diverted sales are reducing payroll and doing less than half the business they did 10 years ago. Filmmakers who self-finance are struggling to get new projects off the ground because rogue sites erode the ability to recoup investments. Creators who offer fans the opportunity to sample works for free on their own sites cannot compete with pirate sites that offer illegal copies of every type of work, from software and books to movies and music, all in a one-stop shop.
Consequences for consumers range from the annoying, like malware and spyware or receipt of cheaply made clothing, to the dangerous and life-threatening, like identity theft or drugs made in unsafe conditions and without active ingredients.
In a survey of consumers, the American Consumer Institute found that 79 percent support blocking foreign-based Internet websites from trafficking counterfeit goods, content, or services to Americans. But rogue websites are incredibly lucrative for certain Internet businesses; they attract more than 53 billion visits a year. Some large corporations earn a lot of money through searches and advertising sales related to popular sites, whether the sites are legal or not. So it is perhaps not surprising that they have mobilized vocal opposition to bills aimed at stopping these abuses.
The House Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate's Protect IP Act have been distorted by stakeholders who fear being asked to cease doing business with rogue sites. The bill moving forward in the House applies only to foreign sites created and operated for the purpose of distributing counterfeits or entire infringing copies of copyrighted works. It requires a federal court order before any action is taken. Courts are prohibited from applying the law in ways that would restrain free speech, interfere with the security of the Internet, affect domestic sites, or alter U.S. laws. And it provides flexibility in compliance to ensure U.S.-based Internet companies and services do not face unrealistic technical or commercial burdens.
The bill offers targeted help in dealing with offshore criminal websites while upholding principles that all Internet users value. That is something everyone should say yes to.
About Sandra Aistars Executive Director of the Copyright Alliance
Andrew McDiarmid Policy Analyst at the Center of Democracy and Technology
Corynne McSherry Intellectual Property Director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation
Stephen Cox President and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus