Taxpayers in the United States could soon be stuck footing the bill for some very costly copyright infringement enforcement.
For those that don't know, the PROTECT IP
Act (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of
Intellectual Property Act of 2011 or Senate Bill S.968) is a piece of
controversial legislation introduced on May 12, 2011 intended to force
private ISPs, search engines and other parties to censor websites
accused of facilitating copyright infringement. The bill is supported by
a large number of infamous IP-protective agencies, including the MPAA
, SAG, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and others.
The legislation is a re-write of the Combating Online Infringement and
Counterfeits Act, which failed to pass in 2010. Opposition parties, such
as the EFF
and Human Rights Watch, decry the legislation because of fears that it
will place free internet in danger. The bill focuses on websites not
registered in the United States, and would give the U.S. Department of
Justice the power to seek a court order against websites that have been
cited as infringing on copyright law, and then to demand "information
location tools" (terms borrowed from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act
to make the target website invisible, basically by "pruning" websites
from domain name servers inside the U.S. The bill does not specify what
constitutes an infringing website, and allows for an injunction to be
issued without notification to the allegedly infringing site.
Based on estimates by the Congressional Budget Office, the enforcement
of PROTECT IP will cost taxpayers just under $10 million a year. The
majority of the money would be spent simply hiring new DOJ employees
and agents for support and to take legal action against infringing
websites, working out to $47 million over five years just for the new
hires. This is assuming that the estimates have not been down-played to
speed up the bill's passage.
Another important, and yet conveniently ignored, concern with the bill is
just how much it could cost the private sector. While the CBO is legally
required to estimate whether proposed legislation will cost the private
sector more than $142 million, in this case the CBO has refused
estimates because of "uncertainty about how often and against whom the
Department of Justice or copyright holders would use the authority" that
the legislation will give them.
Essentially, this leaves ISPs, search engines, and credit card networks
in the dark as to how this legislation could affect them financially.
The constant updating and enforcing of blacklists across hundreds or
thousands of firms would surely not be cheap, and brings into question
just how well any money recouped through enforcement (which is a
debatable issue in and of itself) would off-set the costs of the
enforcement to begin with.