Internet anti-piracy legislation is flawed, says Vanderbilt professor

Protesters of proposed anti-piracy legislation being considered by Congress are right when they say the measures as written threaten the rights of Internet companies and consumers, said a Vanderbilt Law School professor.

Online reference encyclopedia Wikipedia went “black” Jan. 18 for 24 hours to protest legislation, known as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate. Corporations and individuals who make their living from intellectual property, such as record labels and songwriters, have been supportive of the bills.

Daniel Gervais (Vanderbilt)

The bills require websites such as Wikipedia, Google and Twitter to ban links to other websites if they are even suspected of piracy. That could stifle development of the Internet, violate free speech and dramatically harm online entrepreneurship, critics say.

“The enforcement of copyright is understandable and necessary when it supports viable business models,” said Daniel Gervais, co-director of the Vanderbilt Intellectual Property Program and FedEx Research Professor of Law at Vanderbilt Law School.

“Some sites may indeed need to be shut down, but the bill as written does not take into account important nuances. Unless substantially amended, it might reach a level of over-enforcement by unjustifiably targeting search engines that reference other sites and also end-users of those sites.

“This could have a chilling effect and could damage the development of the very technology that is revolutionizing how consumers receive information and arts.”