May 12, 2011

Senator Wyden Response to the PROTECT IP Act Introduction

Washington, D.C. – Senator Wyden offered the following response to the introduction of the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act:

“I felt compelled to block senate action on COICA in December 2010 because it employed a “bunker buster” approach to a problem that could be solved with a “strategic guided missile.”  COICA’s at-all-costs approach to protecting intellectual property would have inflicted collateral damage on the foundations of the Internet, trampled free speech, stifled innovation and given license to foreign regimes to further censor the Internet for political and commercial purposes.  The costs far outweighed the benefits.

The Protect IP legislation addresses some of my objections and includes several of my suggestions, though it retains provisions – like interfering in the Domain Name System – that pose a significant threat to the Internet as we know it.  The legislation also puts forward several new provisions that would have serious ramifications for Internet speech and commerce. 

Moreover, it is hard to consider legislation that would give the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security additional authorities to combat online content infringement when they refuse to answer basic questions regarding what they believe constitutes infringement.  While the departments finally responded to questions that I sent them more than three months ago, their responses reveal a single-minded determination to stamp out online infringement and demonstrate little if any understanding of the Internet’s value and function.

Particularly troubling is their refusal to explain how linking is different than free speech.  Given that hyperlinks in many ways form the foundation of the Internet, efforts to go after one site for linking to another site – which the Administration is currently doing and the Protect IP Act would expand on – threaten to do much more than protect IP.  There are many actions that we can all agree the Administration can and should be taking to crack down on counterfeiting of U.S. goods and the illegal sale of U.S. IP products that don’t involve advancing novel and unsupportable theories like holding sites liable for linking.

In the coming weeks, I intend to work with all concerned to further examine the legislation and gain a better understanding of its impact and to ultimately encourage Members of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary to make the warranted improvements to the bill before it is reported to the full Senate for its consideration.   While I can’t support the Protect IP Act in its current form, I intend to reassess the merits of the PROTECT IP Act once the Judiciary Committee has the opportunity to modify it.”

Senator Wyden authored Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, the Internet Tax Freedom Acts of 1998, 2004 and 2007 and was a lead advocate for the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act.  He also wrote the Internet Freedom and Family Empowering Act, as well as the law establishing electronic signatures and has been a consistent champion of a neutral and open Internet, filibustering the last major telecommunications act because of it failed to protect network neutrality.