Google Can Find its Way Around SOPA
Maxwell is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.
The idea of Executive Mandate is always a legal hot button. How much power can the President actually take from Congress through issuing an order from the White House? Certain things belong squarely on the shoulders of the House and Senate. However, the ‘ruler of the free world’ should have an authoritative say or run the risk of being a figurehead.
Today, it is expected that President Obama will push the boundaries of executive authority by doing what Congress has failed to do with bills like SOPA and PIPA. Companies such as Facebook, GoDaddy.com, and Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) have their eyes and ears glued to the expected announcement today at the Holocaust Museum.
What Has Happened
The idea of greater protection against piracy is not new. Since 2000 and the explosion of life online, drafts of proposed bills have been brought to congress in hopes of securing the finances of companies. Last year, the buzzword was SOPA. The Stop Online Piracy Act was first introduced to congress by Representative Lamar S. Smith, with good intentions. Originally, it was to expand the ability of law enforcement to fight online trafficking in copyrighted material. The U.S. Department of Justice could seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement.
After the bill was promptly stifled thanks to companies like Yahoo! (NASDAQ: YHOO) and Google, the promoters submitted a slightly less restrictive PIPA. Currently, the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA is in the hands of law-makers.
The problem with such a bill is twofold. The first is claimed by the opponents, namely that legislation that might have the intent of protecting the intellectual-property market, revenue and jobs in those industries, and may indeed be necessary to bolster enforcement of copyright laws, might actually threaten free speech and innovation. It would give the right to block entire internet domains due to infringing content posted on it. Not only would this greatly effect user-based social networking sites, requiring stringent surveillance on all accounts, but would also cost millions to implement – and even then, ineffectively.
This creates the second problem with this kind of legislation. Money sunk into this project could sink stocks and companies – even large companies fighting for it such as Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX). The company is still reeling from public outcry that it had formed its own political action committee to endorse politicians who favor such a bill. Any newsreader knows the direct relationship of tech success with the stock market as a whole. If big tech slumps, the whole ship slumps.
What Is Happening
Now today at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the president will announce his intentions of allowing U.S. officials to sanction foreign nationals for using technology to engage in human rights abuses.
Such tracking and internet monitoring will have ultimately the same effect of limiting free speech. Of course, it is intended that the sanctions only be imposed on those who assist in violating human rights through technology. But this broad stroke initiative will only leave the door open for future executive orders that might expand the scope of those sanctions.
The battle rages on both sides. Some governments have already imposed such restriction, such as China, which have previously blocked several Web sites, including Facebook. India also opposes Facebook and Google for “engaging in a general lack of censorship that will corrupt minds.” While big tech companies will fight legally and gain tremendous support through petitions and the use of their own technology, subversive groups such as hacker-activists ‘Anonymous’ openly attack legislation supporters such as the January 19the attacks against CBS that caused its stock price to slide from $28.73 to $27.95.
ACTA’s secret talks have done more to stir the debate than anything. The legislation covertly began back in 2010 with closed door meetings. It was only through a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable that it was discovered these talks had been “set at a higher level than is customary for non-security agreements”. The agreement was signed in January 2012, with a combined 31 signatures, including the U.S., the EU and a host of others.
What it Means
As of today, Internet Service Providers are not liable for what their customers do. This means companies such as Yahoo!, Google, and Facebook, need not worry about copyrighted content as fault lies with the individual offender. ACTA or any such executive mandate that could be expanded would hold ISPs partly if not wholly responsible for what their customers post, from illegal file-sharing to (now) human rights abuses. It would give the government new powers to deal with “Internet distribution and information technology” which is a slippery slope.
What is more, while the President’s initiative has the moral high road, the previously attempted legislation is only about money. It is an example of laws passed to protect businesses and not people.
What Should be Done
While it is too late in the game to prevent the U.S. from entering the ACTA agreement, and now executive sanctions of foreign nationals engaging in human rights abuse, how it plays out in terms of domestic policy is still on the table. It is possible that companies such as Google or Facebook might not see how such an executive order will lead to the same end that they are fighting against. They also do not have the political organization or necessary clout to be a guiding voice in Washington, but hold an invaluable asset in the Web community. Companies should use their abilities to gain rapid and strong support against such moves.
Ensuring protection against ISPs and other companies spending massive amounts of money on policing their own sites is an absolute necessity. More freedom will allow for greater usage, higher revenue, and increased stock performance for all involved. Google, Facebook, and others should use their user solidity and influence to prevent over-reaching agreements and orders, and to protect their bottom line.
The Motley Fool has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. StockCroc1 has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.