What’s “SOBRA” about SOPA



23 January 2012

When over dinner this weekend one of my teen-age sons who’s into internet spoke about we should be doing something about  SOPA, I have to pause in my eating and pay attention to what he’s talking about.  I asked him if he understood what it’s all about and he said it’s what’s being talked about by his Facebook friends though he is not really sure what it’s about but it has something to do about making difficult their usual downloading activities, especially access to websites where there’s free content on the internet.

What’s in the news recently was the WIKIPEDIA black-out last Friday, 20 July if I recall, precisely to protest this proposed US law, the Stop Online Piracy Act (or H.R. 3261), a US House of Representatives bill that in essence authorizes either the US Attorney-General or copyright holder to sue with the aim of shutting down
“foreign infringing sites”,   websites that as per US law, violate specific provisions concerning copyright and even trafficking of counterfeit trademarks, service marks, etc.

Now, what has that got to do with Filipinos in the Philippines like my kid who’s into the internet and is fond of downloading music, picture or movie files from the internet? By the way, these kids also download viruses and other malware which usually slow down the laptop the entire household is using, I keep on telling them to stop what they are doing, which they follow by ignoring me actually.

At best, for now, it has  nothing with us Filipinos here in the Philippines. Kids here, like my own, will usually find another website where they can download these “free” content. I would say “free” since it’s not that it’s free, they just don’t pay for it, as indeed there are websites that truly allow these downloadings, which is the target of this proposed US proposed legislation.

The SOPA has a Senate counterpart, the Protect IP Act, which is also a parallel measure (Senate Bill 968) which mainly does the same thing, authorize the US Attorney General (our equivalent of DOJ Secretary in the person of Sec. Leila de Lima) and copyright holders to sue these infringing websites  and to serve notice to financial transaction providers, internet advertising services, internet service providers to stop dealing with these infringing or rogue websites.

These measures are largely supported by big corporations that provide content, like the Motion Picture Association of America ( which provide most of our Hollywood movies), the Recording Industry Association of America, the US Chamber of Commerce and surprisingly, one of the well-known labor groups in the US, the AFL-CIO, among other technology and content providers.

The groups opposed to these are mainly large technology companies like Google, Facebook, Wikipedia, Reddit, Craigslist, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group fighting for greater rights for users and consumers in the internet, Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe who said that SOPA violates the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which deals with freedom of expression.

One other aspect of SOPA that may have some bearing in the Philippines is its sec. 205 which gives more resources to the US State and Commerce Departments to work in countries outside of the US to defend US intellectual property rights by ensuring, among other actions, “aggressive support for enforcement action against violations of intellectual property rights of US persons in such country”.

This may mean the US embassy again needling and pushing our legislators, like what the WIKILEAKS has revealed in the lobbying for the Cheap Medicines Act, which limited the patent rights of pharmaceutical companies, to push for similar measures here in the Philippines, or to push for greater “enforcement action” like what the sometime movie actor now Optical Media Board Chairman Ronnie Ricketts has been doing in public markets raiding and harassing vendors of “dibidi” the most high profile of which is the one in Quiapo where he was assisted by Mayor Lim and the most recent one in a mall in Makati.

In the Philippine setting, in the coming weeks, we can expect more of these raids and similar activities, even actually the filing of a similar bill.

The users and creators of creative works online or not need not just sit down and be spectators to this soon-to-unfold drama, they have to get together and also discuss, what about their own rights to these things, to freely download, use and distribute whatever they can find in the internet and outside of it, to expand the limits of fair use as provided by our existing copyright laws?

Let the debate on these issues begin, lest the intellectual property holders get the upper hand in this discussion and the balance between users and rights holders get upset and the creative world will get upside down.



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