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Senators Right to Back Off

TimesLedger Newspapers

U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have backed off their support for a piece of legislation that would have greatly restricted user access to the Internet.

The U.S. House of Representatives’ Stop Online Piracy and the Senate’s Protect Intellectual Property acts were intended to stop online piracy. They were championed by Hollywood and the recording industry, which lobbied heavily for their passage.

Critics charged that the bills would have allowed the government to shut down websites that facilitate illegal downloads of copyrighted materials. Google, Facebook and Wikipedia, three of the most popular sites on the Internet, could feel the hands of Big Brother closing around their necks. To raise awareness of its concerns, Wikipedia went black for 24 hours Jan. 18.

Schumer and Gillibrand said they held discussions with officials from Facebook, Yahoo and Google before deciding to withdraw support for the bill. The reasons for opposing these bills should have been obvious. As they stand now, they put the burden on these sites to protect intellectual property.

Under the current arrangements, these sites regularly remove a video, article or song if they are informed the posting violates a copyright. Under the new law, these sites would be responsible to check in advance that the millions of things they or users of the site post do not violate a copyright. If they make a mistake, they could be shut down.

What would the next be? Would the United States follow China, which blocks nearly all access to the Internet?

Filmmakers and the recording industry have a legitimate right to protect their properties, but not at the expense of the millions who use the Internet every day and the businesses that pour billions of dollars into the economy.

We do not have a solution for stopping online piracy, but we are not particularly worried. As they have for decades, Hollywood and the recording industry continue to post enormous profits. They are free, with the help of Congress, to go after the pirates but the Internet should also operate freely.

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