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The Truth about SOPA

Like many members of Congress, I have spoken to constituents and organizations across the country with questions about the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill that makes it harder for foreign thieves to steal and sell U.S. technology and products. What I have found from those conversations is that once people learn the facts about what the Stop Online Piracy Act really does, they drop their opposition. So let’s set the record straight on SOPA.

When most Americans think about counterfeit or pirated goods, they think about street vendors that sell fake brand-name purses or pirated DVDs for a fraction of the price. But the theft of America’s products goes far beyond street vendors. There is a vast virtual market online run by foreign criminals who steal and sell America's technology and intellectual property.

These online thieves not only steal our products, they steal the jobs and profits that rightly belong to American innovators. The theft of America’s intellectual property costs the U.S. economy more than $100 billion annually and results in the loss of thousands of American jobs. From technology to movies to counterfeit medicine, automotive parts and even baby food, the online counterfeiting market poses a real economic threat and even potential health risk to American consumers. That’s why this bill is needed.

The Stop Online Piracy Act makes it harder for illegal foreign websites to make a profit off the sale and distribution of stolen technology and innovations. It specifically targets foreign websites that are actively engaged in illegal and infringing activity. Domestic websites like Facebook and YouTube have nothing to worry about under this bill.

The activity these foreign websites are engaged in is already illegal in the U.S. But because they are operated overseas, the sites are out of reach of current U.S. laws that protect intellectual property. The Stop Online Piracy Act simply applies to foreign illegal websites similar standards that are already in place for domestic sites.

This is a constitutional bill that protects free speech and America’s intellectual property. It’s not censorship to enforce the law and stop criminal activity.

Just like online piracy, child pornography can be found on the Internet. It is also illegal. Just as there is no First Amendment right to offer or access obscenity online, there is no protected interest to offer illegal counterfeit and pirated products and services. Laws exist to protect our property rights in the real world – those same protections apply to the Internet.

This bill authorizes only the Justice Department to seek an injunction against a foreign site that is dedicated to illegal and infringing activity. The Justice Department must go to a federal judge and lay out the case against a foreign site.

If the judge finds that the site is primarily engaged in illegal activity, then a court order can be issued directing companies to sever ties with the illegal website. Search engines will simply be required to remove only the direct link to an illegal site. Third-party intermediaries, like credit card companies and online ad providers, will only be required to stop working with the site. They cannot be held liable for the illegal or infringing actions taken by the rogue website.

So if SOPA only applies to foreign illegal websites, then why are Google and Wikipedia opposed? Unfortunately, one of the reasons why you can’t believe everything you read about the Stop Online Piracy Act is because some critics of this bill have generated enormous profits from illegal websites that sell stolen intellectual property.

For instance, Google has directed consumers to these illegal sites by featuring them prominently on their search function. This includes sites with counterfeit drugs that could endanger the lives of Americans. 

In August, Google paid $500 million to settle a criminal investigation into the search engine’s active promotion of illegal foreign pharmacies that sold counterfeit and illegal drugs to American patients. 

Google’s conduct demonstrates there is a need for the government to step up enforcement of intellectual property rights online and provide increased protections to American consumers.

The ability to pass along rumors on blogs and social networks comes at the risk of getting the facts all wrong. 

The truth is you can’t believe everything you read about the Stop Online Piracy Act, and we can’t let misinformation distract us from making the online marketplace safe for American consumers.

Last week, the White House called for Congress to produce legislation to combat online piracy that protects free speech, the Internet and America’s intellectual property. And that’s precisely what the Stop Online Piracy Act does.

This bill does not threaten the Internet. But it does threaten the profits generated by foreign criminals who target the U.S. market and willfully steal intellectual property by trafficking in counterfeit or pirated goods.

Republican Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas chairs the House Judiciary Committee and is the sponsor of the Stop Online Piracy Act (HR 3261) which is also known as "SOPA."