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by Stephen Logan on 20th May 2011
As the gateway to much of the world’s data and information, Google has a louder voice than many when it comes to online legislation. With the U.S. Government currently attempting to push through a controversial bill – The Protect IP Act – which effectively enables copyright owners to block the availability counterfeited and pirated products with judicial force, perhaps it’s not surprising that Eric Schmidt has added his dissenting voice into the mix.
Copyright infringement is rife on the Internet. Artist’s albums are stolen and made available before release, films are streamed with the studio’s permission and knock-off goods are sold in stores all over the world. Finding the pirated goods isn’t an issue; however preventing their spread and effectively dealing with the perpetrator is proving more challenging.
The UK has proposed a similar policy, which is part of the Digital Britain bill. However the U.S. government appear to want to go one step further, shutting down sites at server level. Schmidt claimed that any such law would “set a dangerous precedent” and compared it with the restrictive rules implemented in China and other countries [see: Google boss: anti-piracy laws would be disaster for free speech | The Guardian]. “If there is a law that requires DNSs to do X and it’s passed by both houses of congress and signed by the president of the United States and we disagree with it then we would still fight it.”
That’s pretty strong stuff, particularly for a company that is as influential and important to the U.S. economy as Google no doubt is. The issue of freedom of speech and other constitutional rights is certainly one that the Government can’t easily ignore. However, for musicians, manufacturers and film producers, there is a clear incentive to take affirmative action against the pirates that cost their industries billions year after year.
So should we just wipe The Pirate Bay off the map? Should P2P hosts be made more accountable for the file sharing that goes on? Whilst Google may not be defending the actions of these sites per se, the search giant does appear to have a strong stance against imposing legislative shackles on their accessibility. Unfortunately for the U.S. Government, their own constitution appears to back this argument.
Now whether a 220 year old document has the same validity in the globalised digital age remains to be seen, but big decisions need to be made and evidently much will turn on whether this law is ratified or not. It’s the irresistible force meeting the immovable object all over again; however, clearly something is going to have to give on this one.