2011: When IP was King

2011: The Year Intellectual Property Trumped Civil Liberties

“Any civil liberties agenda was a complete non-starter with Congress and the Obama administration,” said Cindy Cohn, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s legal director. “They had no interest in finding any balance in civil liberties.” * * * All told, the government has seized more than 350 domains taken as part of a forfeiture program known as “Operation in Our Sites” that began a little more than a year ago. The authorities were using the same asset-forfeiture laws used to seize cars and houses belonging to suspected drug dealers.* * * Consider that October marked the 25th anniversary of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the law that allows the authorities to access your e-mail without a court warrant.* * * The silver anniversary of ECPA had prompted the nation’s biggest tech companies and prominent civil liberties groups to again lobby for an update to what was once the nation’s leading privacy legislation protecting Americans’ electronic communications from warrantless searches and seizures.

The upshot of this article is that our right to free speech and to be free from unreasonable searches is headed out the window.

SOPA’s most frightening flaw is the future it predicts

The bill also gives individual intellectual property holders such as record labels and cable companies the ability to issue similar notices to ad networks and payment processors, demanding the same kinds of remedies. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, copyright-holders can issue takedown notices for individual bits of content, such as infringing You tube videos. SOPA extends a variation of that power to cover entire Web sites. The onus is then on the blacklisted sites to prove the absence of infringing content. * * * The bill also covers more than just infringement (the act of streaming copyrighted content, a felony under SOPA, carries a five-year prison sentence). It also covers “facilitating” such content. That term is so poorly defined, however, it could well apply to a hyperlink on an entirely unrelated Web site, or a single Tweet. The potential for self-censorship is glaring, as is the potential for false positives – how many sites will nuke non-infringing content, or links to such content, just to be safe? * * * And because SOPA also prohibits tools that could be used to get around the Attorney General’s blockade, it may also mean that the same anonymity and address-spoofing software used by activists and protesters will become illegal to U.S. Internet users (many of these tools, incidentally, are funded by the U.S. government, which has no problem with protesters in Iran or China using them). That’s in part why a number of human rights organizations have come out against the bill.

This is irony at its best. We foster our ideal of free speech in Iran and China, while simultaneously putting it in the shredder here at home. Understand that if the “coronation” of IP occurs in the form of SOPA, you will live in a fiefdom not a democracy. Only a king or dictator can do away with ideas that don’t suit them without just cause, or any repercussion.

About Timothy Powers O'Neill

Timothy O’Neill, an attorney with the firm of Cohen Norris practices in the areas of business litigation, real estate litigation, and intellectual property litigation. Timothy received his Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Evansville and graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law in 1997. Following law school, Timothy clerked for two years in the State of Florida's Fifteenth Judicial Circuit in Palm Beach County, and served as a law clerk in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Timothy serves as an executive board member of the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary, a non-profit entity dedicated to preserving Florida’s wildlife through rehabilitation and education. Timothy is admitted to practice before all of the state courts of Florida as well as: The Supreme Court of the United States; United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit; United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit; United States District Court, Southern District of Florida; United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, United States District Court of Colorado, and is a member of the Palm Beach County, Florida, and Federal Bar Associations.

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