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Opposition to SOPA mounting as Google, Facebook link arms

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An MPAA-backed bill designed to let rights-holders block Websites on the accusation of copyright infringement has drawn the ire of Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, eBay, Twitter, LinkedIn, Zynga and others.

According to Bloomberg, AFP, and others, the Stop Online Piracy Act would expose “law-abiding” US tech firms to “uncertain liabilities, private rights of action, and technology mandates that would require monitoring of Websites,” the firms have stated in a joint letter to the House and Senate judiciary committee.

Stating that the bill as it now stands would even pose a cybersecurity risk, the joint letter says “we cannot support these bills as written and ask that you consider more targeted ways to combat foreign ‘rogue’ websites dedicated to copyright infringement and trademark counterfeiting.”

The bill’s explanatory note says SOPA would create a process under which the US Attorney-General would seek a cease-and-desist court order against domain registrants or site “committing or facilitating online piracy”.

However, the bill also gives new rights to copyright holders. In a model apparently copied from the Wikileaks payment blockade, rights-holders could demand that “payment network providers or Internet advertising services” suspend services to “an identified site”, with the targeted site then required to defend itself via counter-notices.

Moreover, SOPA appears to include an attempt to white-ant existing safe-harbour laws: service providers, payment networks, advertisers, advertising services, search engines, domain registrars, and domain registries are only indemnified if they “take actions required by this Act”, or cut off services to accused pirates voluntarily.

According to Bloomberg, David Sohn of the Center for Democracy and Technology believes the vague wording of the bill would put legitimate Websites at risk merely for allowing users to post comments, post blogs, or share video.

Also weighing into the row is digital freedom group Access, which along with a host of anti-censorship groups from around the world, has written to the judiciary committee criticizing the bill.

Their letter says SOPA “puts the interests of rightsholders ahead of the rights of society” and would pressure “private companies to monitor the actions of innocent users”.

“Through SOPA, the United States is attempting to dominate a shared global resource,” the Access letter states. “This is as unacceptable to the international community as it would be if a foreign country were to impose similar measures on the United States.”

Furthermore, Access states, the cumbersome process embodied in the bill would also leave reinstatement of an accused Website to the discretion of the likes of Google and domain registries, “robbing online companies of a stable business environment and creating a climate where free speech is subject to the whims of private actors”. ®

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