SOPA backers seek to restrict online rights again -- but this time outside the law

Stop Online Piracy Act may return as series of voluntary agreements among copyright holders, payment processors, and service providers

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Ammori also points out that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office "has scheduled a 'multistakeholder forum' [on March 20] to discuss 'improving the operation of the DMCA notice and takedown system' for next month: another chance to build some voluntary consensus."

The consensus Ammori refers to is one where copyright holders build alliances with owners of financial or advertising infrastructure as a way to "pressure the tech companies they want to squeeze." Ammori cites an anecdote related to him by Andrew Bridges, of law firm Fenwick & West:

... in which payment processors or advertisers cut off a tech company -- merely because a large copyright holder complained, without a single legal order, to the payments company or advertiser.

Sometimes, the copyright holder was in the middle of litigation with his client, and the 'voluntary agreement' with the advertiser or payment company was used for extra leverage. Other times, he came to believe that the copyright holder just didn't like the industry his client was in -- cloud storage, say, or virtual private networking.

Above and outside the law?

Ammori believes these kinds of agreements are bad news, in big part because they operate outside of the realm of legal due process and exclude the participation of people directly affected by such decisions. "These agreements might be 'voluntary' for the companies involved," he writes, "but they're arranged marriages for the rest of us."

Many of the criticisms of SOPA were of the same stripe. Despite multiple revisions in the wording of the bill to refocus its attention on sites that were clearly designed to facilitate infringement, worry persisted that the definition remained too broad. Worries also abounded that SOPA would give the government a free hand to block access to any site deemed to be infringing, to cut off support from a payment network for any such site, and to provide legal indemnity to anyone who suspends such services to supposedly infringing sites.

There's little argument that piracy is problematic and that creative content producers and copyright holders are entitled to the fruits of their labor. What's thornier, though, is finding a good balance between the rights of all involved -- something Ammori is worried will be even more difficult to find if once the process is relegated to a series of back-room handshake deals.

This story, "SOPA backers seek to restrict online rights again -- but this time outside the law," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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