There are strong protests in the U.S. against two bills intended to protect copyrights in the music and film industry. The many critics fear that the bills will create a dangerous instrument that will restrict freedom on the Internet and could also serve to exclude and damage unwelcome competition without justification.

The first is United States Senate Bill S.968, or the Protect IP Act. It is not a new bill, having already failed in the Senate under a different title in 2010. It is apparently the second attempt to get the law passed through.

The second bill was introduced in the House of Representatives on October 26. H.R.3261, or Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), is intended to fight against the “theft of U.S. property,” according to its summary. Its content is very similar to the Senate’s draft.

The bills would make it possible for firms in the U.S. to block access to foreign websites. If copyright owners think a website violates their interests, they could, if the law were enacted, apply for a court order. With such a court order, advertising firms would have to refrain from working with the infringing site. Money transfer services like PayPal would also have to cease working with the site in question. The operators would consequently be financially starved out by having their transaction method destroyed.

YouTube Would Never Have Come into Existence with Such a Law

In addition, Internet providers could be instructed to stop redirecting the names of websites. If someone enters the name of a page name in his browser, for example, www.zeit.de, a so-called DNS sever automatically links this with the correct IP address of the page and the user is redirected to the server 217.13.68.220, where ZEIT ONLINE is located. Without the work of these DNS servers, the pages would only be reached if the correct IP address is known and properly entered. For users who only know the names, the service would no longer be available and they would get an error message if they enter www.zeit.de. With the bill, an infrastructure would be created in the U.S. to block Internet sites from users until they entered the correct address.

What may appear sensible in the fight against illegal content could, however, become a powerful instrument to shut down unwanted competition; a streaming service that distributes songs and videos and is financed by advertising is by all means competition for the record companies who want to collect money for the same content. Noticeably, the membership organization Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) writes that services like YouTube would never have come into existence if these laws existed five years ago.

The EFF is not the only one that fears that both bills, if enacted, would lead to a black list due to conditions for a judicial decree that are so broadly and vaguely formulated.

Additionally, room for objection is hardly provided in the bills. Access providers who block a page in hasty compliance even without a judicial order are protected from action for damages. They therefore don’t have to fear any consequences.

That would be exactly the opposite of what the law is supposed to accomplish, according to statements by its authors. The title of SOPA states that it aims to promote “prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation.” That would not exactly happen because many services and offers could be legally pushed off the market.

At the same time, an American court has decided that cloud-based services do not have to monitor what their users upload so that they don’t have to install surveillance. Both drafts would instate exactly that type of surveillance because whoever streams or makes the illegal transfer of copyright-protected content would be threatened with penalties.

Despite this process, the bill doesn’t even solve the problem. The music industry is currently realizing that it is entirely possible to protect against illegal sharing portals and their users with threats and lawsuits. Yet they must also note that the lawsuits to do not move more people to buy more music. There is increasingly more evidence that the users of illegal portals ultimately spend more money on movies and CDs than those who do not share and stream.

The fronts are also clear then. The senators who support the Senate draft received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the entertainment industry, from publishers, movie firms and television stations, as can be seen on the website OpenCongress.org. In addition, supporters include computer game companies like Nintendo and Electronic Arts, as well as companies like Microsoft and Apple.

Nearly all large Internet firms belong to the opposition. A week ago, they wrote an open letter to protest against the draft laws and ran it as a full-page ad in The New York Times.

Google, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, Yahoo and eBay wrote in the letter that the law would force access providers to monitor content to protect themselves from lawsuits. Until now, the efforts of many firms to remove illegal content, if they are notified of it, would be undermined. Cost and risks that would arise due to the laws would lead to the important economic and social development of the Internet to be choked off. “We urge you not to risk either this success or the tremendous benefits the Internet has brought to hundreds of millions of Americans and people around the world.”

American citizens can, if they are also of this opinion, sign an online petition and address it to their respective member of Congress. Not much time remains because a vote on the laws is supposed to take place in the very near future.