Ever since the early days of broadcasting, nearly 100 years ago, the law has had an almost impossible time trying to keep up with technology.
Every time legislators think they have the technology figured out, a new wrinkle comes along that changes all of the rules.
Now Congress is trying to figure out how to prevent cyber-theft of movies, songs and consumer goods, which is a good thing, but in the process may end up shutting down innumerable legitimate websites, particularly social media and user-generated content.
What the proposals do is allow almost any court in the United States to issue an order forcing Internet Service Providers to block access to any site that might be infringing the law.
And advertising networks would not be allowed to present ads either on or about the allegedly infringing site.
The law also requires the ISP to prevent access to infringing sites.
But in order to do this the provider will have to screen every bit of traffic in its entire user base.
But this in turn has serious implications for invasion of privacy concerns.
But notice what the proposed law does.
Your site doesn’t have to actually be doing anything wrong.
So long as there is an accusation, you could be shut down.
So ultimately the law will result in lawful sites being blocked, not just those engaged in stealing other peoples’ intellectual property.
Even innocent social media sites could be charged with “facilitating” infringement simply because they providing the platforms for other users’ content.
And all it would take is some over-zealous individual, or government, to file a complaint to put innumerable providers and users at risk.
It’s been estimated by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that companies lose $135 billion a year to counterfeiting and piracy.
But a guiding principle in American law is innocent until proven guilty.
This new attempt at Internet regulation promises to stand the long-cherished tradition on its head.