The impending Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act have the Internet in a tizzy, but Congress has a lot more to think about on the technology front than just intellectual property. Even digging below the surface of the SOPA debate, you see that the issues at play — such as defining Internet borders and squelching innovation on the web — have broad effects that span everything from the digital divide to international commerce.
So, now that the rushed and ill-conceived SOPA and PIPA are essentially dead as currently written thanks to President Obama’s opposition, Congress has an opportunity to rethink and recast the bills in light of the myriad complaints cited by their opponents. While it’s at it, Congress might want consider other methods for ensuring the United States keeps its place atop the burgeoning Internet economy. Based in part on what I heard during hours of policy panels at last week’s CES event, here are five questions Congress needs to answer in 2012.
…Still, nobody denies that trying to enforce intellectual property rights against foreign infringers is a noble goal. But one big problem with SOPA and PIPA is that they also have the potential to come down hard on U.S. companies that even appear to run afoul of their harsh, possibly unconstitutional penalties. Howard University professor Lateef Mtima said “this is being framed almost like an old Western,” because while there will be a showdown at noon between rightsholders and pirates, there will also be a lot of collateral damage. Those could be web startups, small businesses or, as Casey Rae-Hunter of the Future of Music Coalition pointed out, online storage services that independent artists — copyright holders themselves — depend on for storing, sharing and collaborating on music.”