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Why we need a law against online piracy

By Lamar Smith, Special to CNN
January 20, 2012 -- Updated 2021 GMT (0421 HKT)
A FBI anti-piracy warning text.
A FBI anti-piracy warning text.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Illegal counterfeiting and piracy hurt the U.S. economy
  • Smith: Stop Online Piracy Act designed to protect consumers, companies
  • Smith: Misinformation about the bill has spread around the Internet
  • He's open to constructive suggestions that will produce strong anti-piracy legislation

Editor's note: Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a lead sponsor of the Stop Online Piracy Act. On Friday morning, Lamar Smith said his committee would "postpone consideration of the legislation until there is a wider agreement on a solution."

(CNN) -- The growing number of foreign websites that offer counterfeit or stolen goods continues to threaten American technology, products and jobs. Illegal counterfeiting and piracy costs the U.S. economy $100 billion and thousands of jobs every year. Congress cannot stand by and do nothing while some of America's most profitable and productive industries are under attack.

Internet protest stalls online piracy bills in Congress

The Stop Online Piracy Act protects consumers and innovators by targeting foreign websites that traffic in stolen or counterfeit products, everything from movies to medicine to baby food.

A great deal of misinformation about the bill has been spread around the Internet. This information does a disservice to consumers, and it is being disseminated by those who have profited from working with illegal websites that steal and sell America's intellectual property.

Lamar Smith
Lamar Smith

For instance, Google -- a major opponent of the bill -- paid $500 million to settle a criminal investigation for promoting foreign illegal online pharmacies, possibly endangering Americans' health. So their claims that SOPA will "censor" the Internet are self-serving.

The online blackout that occurred this week, which included Wikipedia, was also misleading. Wikipedia has nothing to fear from SOPA. It is ironic that a website dedicated to providing information knowingly offered misinformation about the bill. SOPA will not harm Wikipedia, domestic blogs or social networking sites.

Explain it to me: SOPA
SOPA pits Hollywood vs. Silicon Valley

Opinion: Why SOPA still needs work

Hyperbole has been rampant in the debate about SOPA. However, the bill in no way censors the Internet. It only targets activity that is already illegal, and only targets foreign websites that are dedicated to illegal or infringing activity. In fact, it is similar to laws that already govern websites based in the U.S.

What has not been publicized is the broad support for SOPA. It has been endorsed by a diverse group of organizations, including the National Association of Manufacturers, International Union of Police Associations, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Songwriters Association and the National Center for Victims of Crime. The bill has even united strange bedfellows: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO. It's not every day that you see business and labor on the same side of an issue.

Even the White House has weighed in, endorsing the need for legislation to combat online piracy that protects free speech, the Internet and America's intellectual property. Like the White House, I oppose the censorship of legal activity on the Internet.

I respect the First Amendment and believe that any legislation passed by Congress must protect and defend our constitutional rights. But illegal and criminal activity is not protected by the First Amendment simply because it takes place online. For example, there is no First Amendment right to view, distribute or download child pornography over the Internet. Like child pornography, the theft of intellectual property is also illegal in the United States.

The Stop Online Piracy Act works by cutting off the money to foreign illegal sites and making it harder for online criminals to market and distribute illegal products to U.S. consumers. The bill includes provisions that "follow the money" to cut off the main sources of revenue to these sites, and also protects consumers from being directed to foreign illegal websites by search engines. And it provides innovators with a way to bring claims against foreign illegal sites that steal and sell their technology, inventions and products.

Opinion: Online piracy laws must preserve Web freedom

I realize some people are nervous because of the misinformation surrounding this bill, but I am confident that ultimately the facts will overcome fears. I am open to constructive suggestions that protect American inventors and intellectual property rights holders. Unfortunately, some critics simply want to maintain the status quo that harms U.S. companies, consumers and innovators.

We will continue to work with members of Congress, outside organizations and stakeholders to reach consensus and produce strong legislation that protects American innovators and jobs.

Editor's note: Time Warner, the parent company of CNN, is among the industry supporters of the legislation.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Lamar Smith.

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