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Anti-piracy delays: SOPA, Sinde Law and DEA

By | Published on Monday 19 December 2011


Despite tough talking on both sides of the debate outside Congress, discussions in the House Of Representatives last week on America’s Stop Online Piracy Act were typically tedious. As previously reported, SOPA has got a lot of coverage in the US. The act has parallels with legislation elsewhere in the world, providing a high speed system for rights owners to force copyright infringing websites offline. Opponents claim it’s a move that will let big business censor the internet.

Last week’s meeting discussed various issues around the Act, and considered proposed amendments to it. Many of the proposals were voted down, though revisions to protect websites that inadvertently host infringing content – so, a SOPA equivalent of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s safe harbour clauses – were supported.

Despite most people expecting the House Judiciary Committee to reach some kind of conclusion regards the Act by Friday, in the end it was a agreed to reconvene this coming Wednesday to continue discussions, a delay which many of those who oppose the Act saw as a victory. It’s actually quite hard to assess the mood of the actual lawmakers on this one, though the anti side of the debate certainly delivered the best voxpops last week with their predictions of sinister online censorship should SOPA become law.

Elsewhere in the world, plans for a similar web-blocking system in Spain have been delayed as the country’s outgoing government confirmed it wouldn’t be able to put live its anti-piracy system before stepping down from power, despite the so called Sinde Law that set out a web-blocking process passing through the country’s parliament earlier this year.

Like SOPA, the Sinde Law had many vocal opponents, some of whom now hope that the failure of the current Spanish government to get the web-blocking system live before losing power might severely hinder the new anti-piracy measures. But the copyright industries are hoping that it’s just a temporary setback, and Spain’s incoming government will take over where the outgoing leaders left off.

Back in the UK, the web-blocking provisions in the Digital Economy Act were, of course, put on permanent hold pending further parliamentary consideration, the British government prioritising three-strikes (though not even that is live yet). In an interview with The Observer this weekend, Sony Music UK chief Nick Gatfield expressed frustration that web-blocking had been put on the back burner during legislative efforts to crack down on piracy over here.

He told the paper: “Broadband businesses are being built on the back of illegal file-sharing. As high-speed broadband becomes ubiquitous the problem is going to get bigger and bigger. We need site-blocking, and it’s an incredibly spurious argument for the ISPs to say that they can’t do it because they can do it and they do do it”.

Of course, while the web-blocking provisions of the DEA are on permanent hold, following the Newzbin ruling earlier this year, web-blocking injunctions can be achieved under current copyright law, albeit via a somewhat slower judicial process. The BPI has been trying to use that ruling to pressure British ISPs to block access to The Pirate Bay, though from what we hear the net providers aren’t playing ball, and it remains to be seen whether the record label trade body will actually go to court to secure Newzbin-style injunctions.