Solar VPS Blog

OPEN Act: A Good Thing?

Now that SOPA and PIPA are tabled – at least for the time being, lawmakers are looking to a new bill for answers to the pervasive problem of Internet piracy. OPEN – or Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act – may be that answer: “I think that OPEN is a good start,” explains Solar VPS Founder and COO Ross Brouse. “It shows that the democratic process works. When a proposed bill is flawed, we can go back to the drawing board and make things better.”

Brouse is referring to the public outcry against the SOPA/PIPA bills, which forced Congressional supporters into retreat. Despite thousands, if not millions, of dollars spent by media conglomerates to lobby Congress in favor of the bills – non-profit research organization Media Matters for America reports that an estimated 28 different lobbying firms were hired by the likes of Comcast, Disney, et al., organizations such as the Save Hosting Coalition were able to rally support amongst the IT community and others who benefit from an open Internet (that’s EVERYONE!). “The outcry was massive,” Brouse says. “Shelving SOPA and PIPA has been a great success. We (the protestors) created awareness and people’s awareness enabled them to speak up about how SOPA and PIPA are toxic for our economy – especially when it comes to jobs – and for the basic freedoms we, as Americans, hold dear.”

Added Brouse emphatically: “By the simple virtue of being American and protesting the American way, we got Washington to change something. We were united. It was beautiful!”

Brouse and fellow managed hosting pioneers at DedicatedNOW, wrote to Congressional leaders for support. And they were heard. New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg responded (emphasis supplied):

Dear Mr. Brouse:
Thank you for contacting me with your concerns about the PROTECT IP Act. I share your concerns, and I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.
The “Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property (PROTECT IP) Act of 2011” (S. 968) was scheduled for a procedural vote before the full Senate in January 2012. I did not cosponsor the legislation, and raised serious concerns with the bill. I firmly believe that our system functions best with a public that is aware of, and engaged in, the political process. I appreciated hearing from so many New Jersey residents about this legislation, and was pleased that the vote on the Protect IP Act was canceled. Please be assured that I remain committed to a free and open Internet and will keep your views in mind in the future.

Thank you again for contacting me.

We at Solar VPS couldn’t agree with you more, Senator!

The combined power of our individual voices and the blackout of January 18 (featuring the virtual darkness of Wikipedia, WordPress, Mozilla and others) forced Washington’s hand. But now, Washington is promoting another strategy with OPEN. Should we band together to fight that too?

Brouse says no. He, along with Internet titans at Facebook and Google, are in favor of OPEN. But what are the differences between OPEN and SOPA/PIPA? “OPEN places the fate of alleged pirates in the hands of the ITC (International Trade Commission) instead of the Justice Department,” Brouse explains. “This makes a lot of sense since the ITC already handles disputes with imports that allegedly encroach upon intellectual property rights.”

“OPEN uses the same ‘follow the money’ approach that has been effective in shutting down illegal gambling operations,” explains Save Hosting Coalition Founder Christian Dawson. “The ITC will be a better judge than – well, any old judge – when it comes to figuring out what restrictions to place on burgeoning, and sometimes hard-to-understand, new technology. Frankly, it’s smarter to centralize what COULD amount to the censoring and shutting down of new technological innovations with a specialized group (ITC) trained to see what is actually an illegal act and what is simply being (alleged) as such.”

Brouse says that, under SOPA/PIPA, there would be an absence of due process. He believes that the SOPA/PIPA plan of action would give judges the power to dictate the DNS (Domain Name System), and that would limit the way legitimate Internet businesses operate. “They could just shut you down. It would be like the blacklisting under (Senator Joseph) McCarthy of the 40s and 50s. You’re accused: you’re done!

“Hollywood and the music industry are very angry at Washington right now,” Brouse explains. “They think the bills passed would have put a large dent in piracy. But they wouldn’t have done a thing.

“Don’t they remember all the times they’ve tried to introduce new stuff: rock and roll, sex, violence, and profanity in movies, etc. and how they’ve been able to take advantage of free speech rights letting them sell the content they wanted to sell?” he asks. “I would never support piracy. I want people to get angry about piracy because it’s wrong. But I also want them to get angry about the U.S. Government wanting to censor what we can and can’t look at through SOPA/PIPA legislation. I want people to understand the tools government agencies will use to monitor our Web activities: tools like deep packet inspection and others.”

Besides, Brouse says, OPEN is actually better for Hollywood than its predecessors were: “OPEN definitely protects artists, musicians, and film/TV makers. Does SOPA/PIPA? In my opinion, it’s highly questionable. Those bills were driven by the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) and the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America): organizations that claim to be looking out for the rights of creators, but, in my opinion, are instead looking out for their own wallets.”

“Recently, Tom Brady admitted to watching the (2011) Super Bowl on an illegal site,” Brouse reports. “If big entertainment providers would just offer content out the way we want it, we would buy it. Brady couldn’t watch the Super Bowl in Costa Rica, so he found an alternative: piracy.”

The bottom line is this: OPEN has the support of Internet and technology companies that SOPA/PIPA lacked. Issuing a joint statement to House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa and Senator Ron Wyden, the following entities lauded OPEN: AOL, eBay, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Twitter, Yahoo and Zynga. “This approach targets foreign rogue sites without inflicting collateral damage on legitimate, law-abiding U.S. Internet companies by bringing well-established international trade remedies to bear on this problem,” the statement read.

“OPEN represents the fruition of American ingenuity and free speech,” Brouse explains. “It’s not perfect, however. For instance, the ITC  might prove difficult to petition.”

Brouse and Dawson agree that a trip to Washington to refute a claim might be cost-prohibitive to small business owners. They also speculate that OPEN might not be as successful shutting off pirates working from the U.S. as it will with foreign sites. “Benjamin Franklin and others have said that it’s better to let a guilty man go free than imprison those who are innocent,” Brouse says. “I agree. We shouldn’t punish people based on mere accusation of piracy, as with SOPA/PIPA.

“But, as I said, OPEN is a good start.”

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