SOPA

In case you haven’t heard, there’s a huge fight brewing over the so-called “Stop Online Piracy Act” or SOPA (H.R. 3261). The stated purpose of the bill is “to promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation by combatting the theft of US property.” So far, so good.

The trouble is, we haven’t been able to enforce US property rights against creative Chinese entrepreneurs who think it’s a brilliant business strategy to reproduce True Religion jeans and sell them back to status-conscious Americans for a fraction of their retail value.

To “solve” that problem, SOPA targets US companies that host or link to foreign websites that market products to US consumers. If a foreign entity is accused of infringement, US service providers and search engines must disable access to the offender’s website within five days. Due to DNSSEC and other acronyms I know nothing about, it is possible that SOPA could inadvertently close down or otherwise impede access to other sites that are perfectly legit.

However, the crafty drafters of SOPA are a step ahead of their would-be detractors. To quell any doubt, the bill opens with congressional findings {spelling out the intent of Congress if—or in this case, when—the bill is challenged in court} to clarify that “Nothing in the Act shall be construed to impose a prior restraint on free speech or the press protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution.” See, it’s all good. Ron Paul can rest easy now.

This so-called finding reminds me of Margaret Thatcher’s quote, “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell someone you are, you aren’t.” Now that’s a timely reminder for Members of Congress in general—but I would add that if you have to go out of your way to tell someone your bill is constitutional, well…enough said.

Our laws already prohibit online piracy. The Department of Justice can go after Google and GoDaddy if they are intentionally facilitating infringement. Domestic entities are not the culprits here. I’d love to punish the bad guys, but I’m not sure it’s wise to impose new mandates on US companies that are incidental to the problem.

A few years ago, following reports of lead paint in toys imported from China, Congress passed a bill that imposed draconian lead standards on domestic manufacturers of children’s products. Nearly every Member of Congress voted on the law and then happily went home to tell their constituents they had done something to protect children. Except they neglected to read the fine print. In fact, the law does nothing to prevent the illegal and unethical conduct of foreign companies. It just makes life that much more difficult for American business owners who are finding it virtually impossible to comply with the new provisions.

Let’s hope SOPA receives a little more scrutiny.

The whole issue raises some challenging questions with respect to life in a global marketplace. Intellectual property is important to us because we are a nation founded on and unified by ideas, not artifacts. Awhile back, I had a professor who lamented America’s lack of quality culture, while pointing to the unique cuisine, garments, art and music that are defining elements in other nations. For the record, this was someone who bought coffee every day for a month from McDonalds—while in France. But I digress. In any case, my professor completely and tragically missed the absolute genius of the American experiment.

Ideas matter. Germans are rich in culture, but what good did it do them to march off to war to a good soundtrack when their ideas plumbed the depths of wickedness? I could care less if our national food is the hot dog and our contribution to art is Jackson Pollock {sorry fans}. We possess something no people group in history has ever even attempted: a nation founded on the notion that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And that government derives its just power from the consent of the governed.

Now if only we could get the Chinese to pirate those ideas.

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