Media Companies Slam SOPA Alternative — What It Means for Hyperlocals

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Representatives of large media companies are opposing a new anti-piracy bill introduced by U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Representative Darell Issa (R-Calif.) that offers an alternative to another bill — the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) — which critics say place to much burden on hyperlocal news publishers and other web sites.

Known as the OPEN Act (the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade), owners of important intellectual property rights in content like movies can petition the International Trade Commission to investigate cases of counterfeit imports. The ITC could compel payment processors like Visa and PayPal to cease doing business with such rogue sites.

The OPEN Act is a response to the Stop Online Piracy Act that has been pushed by major content providers, such as movie studios. As Street Fight originally reported on November 14, 2011, SOPA would give major content providers, such as movie studios, the ability to get web sites blacklisted if they contain copyright-infringing materials. Rep. Lamar Smith, who introduced the bill, released an amendment on December 13, 2011 that reworks some of the bill, taking out some provisions that were the primary target of critics.

Rebecca Jeschke, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Street Fight on November 14 that under SOPA, “Hyperlocal news sites would be as vulnerable as any other site on the internet, particularly if they incorporate user-generated content. Under this legislation, a few false moves by contributors might make the site inaccessible.” The greatest danger is that a hyperlocal news site, which may depend on aggregating content and using user content, could face the threat of being blocked on the internet if a media outlet claims the hyperlocal news site merely infringes the content of others.

“Building on the International Trade Commission’s existing IP expertise and authority makes it possible to go after legitimate cases of IP abuse without doing irreparable harm to the Internet.  It also just makes sense,” said Senator Wyden in support of the OPEN Act. Senator Wyden and Rep. Issa operate, where the community can post comments on the new bill.

The Recording Industry  Association of America has criticized the OPEN Act, and continues to back its support for SOPA. In a January 6 blog post, Mitch Gazlier, senior executive vice president of RIAA, said: “SOPA was introduced to address the devastating and immediate impact of foreign rogue sites dealing in infringing and counterfeiting works and products. … Why in the world would we shift enforcement against these sites from the Department of Justice and others who are well-versed in these issues to the ITC, which focuses on patents and clearly does not operate on the short time frame necessary to be effective?” The Motion Picture Industry of America claims the OPEN Act is “going easy on Internet Piracy.”

On the other hand, major online Web providers such as AOL, eBay, Google, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Twitter, Yahoo!, Zynga and Facebook support the new OPEN Act. In a joint letter posted on, the companies stated in a joint letter that the OPEN Act “targets foreign rogue sites without inflicting collateral damage on legitimate, law-abiding U.S. Internet companies by bringing well-established international trade remedies to bear on this problem.” The Computer & Communication Industry Association, the Consumer Electronics Association and provided similar support in a letter to Sen. Wyden and Rep. Issa on December 12, 2012.

Brian Dengler is an attorney with Vorys Legal Counsel and journalist who covers legal issues in eMedia. He is a former vice-president of AOL, Inc., a former newspaperman, and an EMMY-winning TV journalist. He teaches new media issues as an adjunct at Kent State University and formerly at Otterbein University.