A peek into PIPA

CIOL Bureau
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PUNE, INDIA: SOPA or Stop Online Privacy Act has started a huge undercurrent of virtual noise, voice and choice. With PIPA (Protect IP Act) and Europe’s ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) etc., the debate gets simpler and fuzzier at the same time.

While many continue the big wave of protests which have been interestingly opined to be witch-hunts by some experts, Deepti Krishnan, research analyst with ValueNotes, a business research and consulting firm helps us get an incisive and objective dissection of the many dimensions of the buzz around Internet’s biggest bete noire as of now.


CIOL: Which side of the SOPA Act are you on?

Krishnan: As of now, the anti-piracy bill, SOPA, has halted in its progress through the US Congress, as has PIPA, its counterpart in the Senate. In its current state, SOPA and PIPA are objectionable, as it would allow IP (Intellectual Property) owners to target sites that they believe in 'good faith' infringe their copyright.

CIOL: Is it too quick or strong to interpret this proposed Act in the context of freedom of speech or democracy of the Internet? How does this align with the recent changes that Indian Government has imposed on social networking sites?


Krishnan: Yes, it would be hasty to label SOPA/PIPA as opponents of free speech on the Internet. Since this is a bill being considered in the US, we need to take a closer look at their Bill of Rights, particularly the Doctrine of Prior Restraints as set out by the First Amendment.

According to this doctrine, content can only be censored after their publication, and not before. The DCMA already deals with this by allowing copyright holders to send notices to websites that host infringing material, and request they be taken down. SOPA/PIPA makes the websites responsible for the pre-censorship of any illegal or copyrighted material, which would go against Prior Restraint.

As far as the guidelines that the Indian government has imposed on social networking sites, it has more to do with removing objectionable material on their sites, e.g. pornographic material, anti-religious sentiment, defamatory statements, etc. It has nothing to do with copyright infringement.

CIOL: What implications would this Act (if it goes through) have on India/on user community/ content providers/ISPs and other industry constituents?


Krishnan: If a copyright holder held that a site is infringing on copyrighted materials, according to the current wording in SOPA, all the holder has to do is send a letter to, for instance, Google to de-index the site from their search engines, or to Paypal, who would then be required to close that account.

This letter is not a court-order, and nor does it need any judicial sign-off. However, this seems to have changed in the latest version of the SOPA/PIPA bills. The way this would affect India, is that most of the widely used Internet companies are based in the US and would have to comply with this law, if passed.

If a website is found in violation, then Google/Yahoo/Bing/Ask would have to remove links to that site, Paypal and other US payment services would have to cease transactions with that site, and Ad services would also have to severe connections to that site.


The fact is that, in the current version, an entire domain can be 'blacklisted' if any part of the site is found in violation. Furthermore, SOPA contains an 'anti-circumvention' clause, which holds that users can't be told how to work around restrictions.

Thus, if there was copyrighted material on a website, the copyright holder sent a letter to the major services asking the website to be de-listed, and then a Internet user, who has a link to the material, posts that link on Facebook, or Twitter, or Google+ or Pinterest, or any other social networking site based in the US, then the responsibility of policing and removing that offending link falls on the Internet company in question.

This way, even an Internet user in India would be affected, since he/she cannot post links to copyright.