Media law expert weighs in on SOPA and PIPA legislation

Senate and House leaders announced plans to postpone work on two controversial anti-piracy bills.

The decision comes in the wake of large online protests that spurred several congressmen to rethink the Protect Intellectual Property Act or PIPA and the Stop Online Piracy Act or SOPA.

KHQA's Rajah Maples spoke with a first amendment rights expert about the pros and cons of the legislation from a legal perspective.

Sandy Davidson is a media law professor at the Missouri School of Journalism.

She said, "What congress is trying to do is stop the online piracy that's occurring on foreign located Web sites. So the law's purpose, basically, is to give the attorney general the power to go into our American courts and get a cease and desist order telling a foreign-based Web site that targets the United States. The cease and desist order that says stop the piracy. Then, once the court issues this order, the attorney general can present this order to our U.S. based internet service provider or search engines and tell them that they must, within 5 days, stop any hypertext links to that foreign site."

Davidson said, "Here's what SOPA has to say about the first amendment. It says nothing in this act shall be construed to impose a prior restraint on free speech or the press protected under the first amendment to the constitution, but Wikipedia, search engines such as Google that do a lot of hypertext links say, 'wait a minute. you are messing around with our content and once you started telling us what content we can post,' then we do have a first amendment problem."

She said, "I think we need to put all of this in its historical context. The United States constitution gives Congress the power to create copyright law. So, copyright piracy is something that has been going on for centuries. it's not new. It's just that now, the internet is making it so easy. And of course, the internet has no boundaries. It's global in its extent, so it's not enough to just stop the local pirates. We need to reach out and stop the global piracy. That's what the folks at Hollywood or the record industry say to Congress. We need to clamp down on this global piracy, but there are several problems. First of all, there's a problem of jurisdiction. How can an American court have any power over a foreign internet provider?"

"I think most people would agree that we have a problem with online piracy that it indeed is costly to Hollywood and to the record companies," she said. "The constitution by the founding fathers the duty to do copyright law in order to protect people who are creating this wonderful intellectual property. They're wanting to encourage that."

Davidson said, "So Congress wants to protect hollywood and the record companies. Most people think that we need some protection. But the question is, how to do it, and you don't want such overkill that now you have the internet truly being stifled. the internet is not the wild west when it comes to anything you post, that's ok. No, copyright law applies to the internet, but it's a lot harder to put forth and again, just enforcing it domestically doesn't work if there are lots of foreign web sites that are pirating and then sending this material into our U.S. markets."

Many of the co-sponsors of the two bills withdrew their support for the pending legislation, including Illinois Senator Mark Kirk and Initial PIPA backer Missouri Senator Roy Blunt