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Bill, Please!

In the week that went by, the cyber world has been up in arms against a couple of pieces of legislation being discussed in the US House of Representatives and Senate. Back home, I must confess that during the course of my interactions with the fraternity here, I have not heard a single person so much as mention what’s playing out in the USA.

Which is sad because at the heart of these crucial legislations are life-and-death measures to combat the raging film and music piracy, which has not only already reached alarming proportions, but also set to grow further in an increasingly digital world.

The two Bills in question are the Stop Online Piracy Act and PROTECT IP Act (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011 or PIPA). Both these proposed laws are essentially protective of the entertainment industry and we really ought to be following them with much more interest than we are now.

To put it simply, the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act provides for allowing the US Department of Justice, as well as copyright holders, to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. Depending on who makes the request, the court order could include barring online advertising networks (like Google AdSense) and payment facilitators (like Paypal) from doing business with the allegedly infringing website, barring search engines (like Google) from linking to such sites, and requiring Internet service providers (like Airtel or Tata Infocom) to block access to such sites.

The Bill would make unauthorised streaming of copyrighted content a crime, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison for ten such infringements within six months. The Bill also gives immunity to Internet services that voluntarily take action against websites dedicated to infringement, while making liable for damages any copyright holder who knowingly misrepresents that a website is dedicated to infringement.

The PROTECT IP Act provides for similarly stringent action against infringing websites, with the difference being that it is more targeted towards infringing websites that are operated and/or registered overseas and gives the enforcing teams the legal wherewithal to take action against foreign operators even where ownership cannot be determined – a crucial tool in the quick-moving, pan-jurisdiction and often shadowy world of the Internet where a pirate sitting in say, Kolkata, can easily switch operations from a server based in the Bahamas to one based in Bermuda.

The proposed laws have led to a no-holds-barred debate with the entertainment industry coming out strongly in support of the legislation, and media mogul Rupert Murdoch going so far as to call Google a ‘piracy leader’. On the other hand, popular (and influential) websites/services such as Wikipedia, Mozilla, Google and others’ have carried out ‘black-outs’ to protest against ‘throttling of freedom of expression’ and  ‘imposing of censorship on the Net’ and other such lofty-sounding ideals.

Let us make no mistake: the uproar over the two Bills is different from the totally justified protests that have marked the Indian government’s stated intent to censor social media and the Internet. As a member of the free press, we condemn any move that seeks to restrict citizens’ rights to express their views.

However, there is a difference between having the freedom to be allowed to say that so-and-so minister is corrupt and the ‘freedom’ to steal someone’s intellectual property created on the back of heavy investments and toil. The Constitution gives us ‘freedom of movement’ … but that doesn’t give anyone the right to walk in and make themselves comfortable in your bedroom!

We, at Box Office India, not only support the two Bills but would also strongly urge the film and music fraternities to unite and lobby for similarly strong laws here in India.  Oops! Using the word ‘unity’ used in conjunction with the Indian film and music industries…. a contradiction in terms?!

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