Debate Club

Lawmakers Don't Understand Consequences of SOPA

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"Let's bring the nerds in and get this right." That admonishment by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah, was the most poignant moment during the recent hearing on the Stop Online Piracy Act. While it's unreasonable to expect politicians to be expert in every policy area, the least we can ask of our lawmakers is to acknowledge when they don't have the requisite information at hand, and do all they can to secure it.

That's all that Chaffetz was pleading for, but his SOPA-supporting colleagues made it evident that even this is too much to expect. Rep. Mel Watt put it well: "As one who acknowledged in his opening statement that he was not a nerd and didn't understand a lot of the technological stuff, I'm not the person to argue about the technology part of this." Seconds later he asserted that he did not believe the many engineers who assert that SOPA would undermine Internet security—and who were never given the opportunity to testify.

[Check out 2011: The Year in Cartoons.]

SOPA is indeed technically complicated, and has far-reaching implications that should convince lawmakers of the need to get it right. SOPA would give the government and corporations new powers to block Americans' access to websites accused of copyright infringement; create broad, nebulous new liabilities for sites that rely on user generated content—like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and other social networks, and make it a felony for people to stream unlicensed content (think cover song videos). It will kill jobs and stymie innovation, undermine cybersecurity, risk undue Internet censorship, and provide comfort to authoritarian regimes around the globe who seek to manipulate the Internet to quash dissent.

[Vote: Is SOPA a Form of Censorship?]

Last month, the committee chair and lead sponsor brought in SIX witnesses to testify on the legislation, five of whom were supportive of the legislation and none of whom was a disinterested expert on what SOPA's passage would portend for the Internet or for society at large. With more than 3 million Internet users having urged their lawmakers to oppose the bill, the committee has no dearth of potential witnesses—and with so much at stake, it has no excuses.

David Segal

About David Segal Executive Director of Demand Progress

Tags
internet
digital piracy
Congress

Other Arguments

#1
145 Pts
Stop Online Piracy and PROTECT IP Acts Do More Harm Than Good

No – Stop Online Piracy and PROTECT IP Acts Do More Harm Than Good

Andrew McDiarmid Policy Analyst at the Center of Democracy and Technology

#2
138 Pts
Proposed 'Anti-piracy' Legislation Dangerous and Unconstitutional

No – Proposed 'Anti-piracy' Legislation Dangerous and Unconstitutional

Corynne McSherry Intellectual Property Director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation

#3
115 Pts
SOPA Won't Hamper True Pirates

No – SOPA Won't Hamper True Pirates

Julian Sanchez Research Fellow at Cato Institute

#5
-113 Pts
Rogue Websites Endanger Victims and Cost Billions Every Year

Yes – Rogue Websites Endanger Victims and Cost Billions Every Year

Stephen Cox President and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus

#6
-117 Pts
Online Pirates Are Costly and Dangerous

Yes – Online Pirates Are Costly and Dangerous

Steve Tepp Chief Intellectual Property Counsel for the Global Intellectual Property Center at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce

#7
-125 Pts
Copyright Theft Costs Jobs and Threatens Creativity

Yes – Copyright Theft Costs Jobs and Threatens Creativity

Sandra Aistars Executive Director of the Copyright Alliance

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