The U.S. Congress is currently embroiled in a heated debated over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), proposed legislation that supporters argue is needed combat online infringement, but critics fear would create the “great firewall of the United States.” SOPA’s potential impact on the Internet and development of online services is enormous as it cuts across the lifeblood of the Internet and e-commerce in the effort to target websites that are characterized as being “dedicated to the theft of U.S. property.” This represents a new standard that many experts believe could capture hundreds of legitimate websites and services.
For those caught by the definition, the law envisions requiring Internet providers to block access to the sites, search engines to remove links from search results, payment intermediaries such as credit card companies and Paypal to cut off financial support, and Internet advertising companies to cease placing advertisements. While these measures have unsurprisingly raised concern among Internet companies and civil society groups (letters of concern from Internet companies, members of the US Congress, international civil liberties groups, and law professors), my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) argues the jurisdictional implications demand far more attention. The U.S. approach is breathtakingly broad, effectively treating millions of websites and IP addresses as “domestic” for U.S. law purposes.
The long-arm of U.S. law manifests itself in at least five ways in the proposed legislation.
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The Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, based at the University of Ottawa, was established in 2003 as Canada’s first legal clinic of its kind (I sit on the faculty advisory board). CIPPIC’s mission includes “to fill voids in public policy debates on technology law issues, ensure balance in policy and law-making processes, and provide legal assistance to under-represented organizations and individuals on matters involving the intersection of law and technology.” CIPPIC’s comments on the digital lock rules on Bill C-32 included:
Unfortunately, the bill also succumbs to U.S. pressure and makes fair dealing — including the new exceptions for the many ordinary activities of Canadians — illegal whenever there is a “digital lock” on a work. A digital lock will trump all other rights, forbidding all fair dealing and keeping a work locked up even after its copyright term expires. Overall, these digital lock provisions are some of the most restrictive in the world.
To achieve a fair balance between users and copyright owners, the government needs to fix the digital lock provisions before this bill passes into law. A fair way to rework this flaw is to ensure that fair dealing with works is always legal, regardless of whether there is a digital lock present.
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