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Proposed copyright reform creates controversy

IT’S A NEW bill that’s creating quite the stir. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) has dethroned the Occupy protests as a top news story gathering interest worldwide.
SOPA—an anti-piracy bill, also known as House Bill 3261, originating in the U.S.—was created to eliminate pirated online content, particularly foreign content, and allow for legal action against websites found violating copyright regulations.

According to Michael Geist, law professor and Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce at the U of O, it’s not just our proximity to the United States that makes the copyright battle more than just an American affair.

“SOPA talks about [Internet] domains as being domestic names for [the] United States’ purposes and all the IP addresses that are allocated by [the] United States registry would be subject to United States law,” he says. “All Canadian IP addresses come from a United States-based registry and all of those IP addresses would, under this law, be treated as [American] for SOPA purposes.”

Canada has also witnessed its fair share of domestic copyright disputes in the House of Commons with Bill C-11 about to pass. The bill attempts to update our copyright laws, which haven’t changed in over decade in an effort to combat digital piracy.

“The main lobbyists for SOPA, largely Hollywood interests, are behind the most controversial aspects of Bill C-11,” says Geist. “The provisions aren’t identical between what you have in SOPA and what you have in C-11, [but] certainly there are similar intents and the same parties pushing for significant copyright reforms here in Canada as well.”

While Geist explains the passing of SOPA would create issues with IP addresses here in Canada, the bill has been halted due to a strong opposition.

On Jan. 18, website giants such as Wikipedia and Reddit went “dark” to protest SOPA. Other popular digital destinations, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, would most likely undergo major reform if the bill passed.

While Wikipedia has released statements on how SOPA will impede upon freedom of expression and thought, while fundamentally changing the Internet, the sentiment is not unanimous.

“National copyright laws need to be reconsidered anew, and more so for the international copyright system that hasn’t been reformed since 1971,” says Salah Basalamah, professor of translation and interpretation at the U of O.

“The fundamental principles of copyright laws should be in line with those of the human rights, and hence strike a balance, like copyright law is supposed to do, between private property and public interests of corporations.”

Despite the fact SOPA has been put aside as a presidential election approaches in the U.S., Daniel Pare, communications professor at the U of O, informs the public of an emerging copyright law that could potentially be as harmful as SOPA.

“It is a good thing that SOPA has been put on the back burner for now. No doubt, however, it will reappear under some new guise in the not too distant future,” says Pare. “It is important also not to look past the implications of another equally harmful IP-related trade agreement called the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.”

The debate may continue on emerging anti-piracy laws, but according to Geist the solution may not be in legislation.

“The answer is less [about] looking for legal solutions to try to stand out piracies and more in truly competing in the marketplace.

Take the music industry, for example; it sought to be improved by the law in the last eight years from the days of Napster, but in fact there is more music available for free online today than there’s ever been,” he says.
“The reason we are seeing some success in the music industry … is [because] they finally stopped [suing] its existence and instead tried to compete in the marketplace by offering up alternatives.”

Tamara Tarchichi


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