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Global online concerns over SOPA and PIPA Bills highlighted by IP lawyer

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By Stephen Lepitak, -

January 18, 2012 | 4 min read

The SOPA and PIPA bills that are set to be put to congress could see the US start to dictate how the global internet is run should they be passed, IP lawyer Steve Kuncewicz has warned.

Currently Wikipedia, Google, Reddit and a number of other US websites are staging a 24 hour protest in the US to highlight their opposition to the two bills, claiming that they could stifle free speech online.

The two bills, which have the backing of major media companies including 20th Century Fox, aim to prevent copyright infringement online, and crack down on the high levels of file sharing and piracy taking place around the world.

However the power that such Bills would give would stretch beyond the sharing of movies and television, and could have a heavy impact on UK online businesses too.

“The big risk with it is that strictly speaking this bill would allow a US court to block a foreign website,” warned Kuncewicz. “This could affect an awful lot of UK tech businesses if they don’t know what they are doing and they don’t know how to deal with it. It’s a big piece of legislation. The whole idea is that it’s meant to stop people infringing copyright on the web by swapping copyright content. That is great in principle but the problem with it is that it’s like a bull in a china shop. The US would have the power to shut down a website on the basis that it might infringe copyright. An order would be processed to shut a domain site down and the site would effectively disappear.”

Wikipedia and Google are the most high profile of the websites to take a stance against the bills, that even President Obama is reported to have gotten cold feet over, with claims that they could stifle free speech online.

Earlier today, Google placed a link on its main homepage to a petition for users to sign to voice their resistance to the motion in the US, while Wikipedia took its US site offline for a 24 hour period, replacing it instead with information about the two bills.

Kuncewicz continued: “The worry is that this is exactly the kind of thing that would stop people from innovating. It’s a knee-jerk reaction and it’s no coincidence that Rupert Murdoch is very much behind it. He’s already said that he sees copyright infringement as theft and you can argue that, and he’d be perfectly happy for it to go through because it allows his company to moneytise and charge whatever they want to for their content for a long time to come.”

He went on to explain the impact that could be had on the UK online industry.

“If you are a UK website…what you could have is a US court making massive decisions to close your website, which could be critical to your business, for a short period of time. That is a massive disruption in terms of the way you work.

“Piracy as a whole is a bad thing…the worry is that if they are going to take a site down they should do so under the usual due process, with this you could get perfectly legitimate websites being taken down using a broad brush approach and that’s the real worry. The international aspect of the whole thing is absolutely terrifying because the US could conceivably take control of the global internet through things like this. If you are a US consumer who uses a website overseas then that gives the US government and the US courts to take action against it and that’s a really big problem.”

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