Stopping Digital Parasites

This week Senator Leahy (D-VT) introduced the “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act.” I applaud Senator Leahy and the bills co-sponsors, Senators Evan Bayh, Richard Durbin, Orrin Hatch, Amy Klobuchar, Herb Kohl, Charles Schumer, Arlen Specter, George Voinovich, and Sheldon Whitehouse for taking a much needed step to ensure that websites and domain names which facilitate and profit from the illegal distribution of intellectual property are shut down before any further infringement can take place.

American industries that rely on intellectual property rights employ over 18 million people and account for over $5 trillion of U.S. gross domestic product. The entertainment industry is perhaps the most visible victim of online infringement through illegal music downloads and video streaming, but there are other industries, including pharmaceuticals, machinery, and clothing that rely on the protection of intellectual property rights in order to not only thrive, but survive.

In a statement, Senator Hatch elaborated on the need for such legislative action:

“In today’s global economy the internet has become the glue of international commerce –- connecting consumers with a wide array of products and services worldwide. But it’s also become a tool for online thieves to sell counterfeit and pirated goods, making hundreds of millions of dollars off of stolen American intellectual property.”

While reading commentary following introduction of the bill, I found it interesting that some of the opposition makes the brazen comparison between the take down of sites whose sole existence is the spread of illegal pharmaceuticals, software, music, and movies to governments around the world censoring online access to information. I, in no way, support such suppression of free speech but this is hardly the case. Last time I checked, there were countless websites citizens can visit to buy the content that suits their wants and needs. All legal and all provide the opportunity for the original creator to earn a living off their works while delivering their product to interested consumers. There is absolutely no talk of taking down these websites and stopping the flow of information legitimately.

The sites where illegal content often appear are for-profit websites that have the look and feel of a lawful website and stay afloat through advertising and subscription revenue. They are parasites, plain and simple. And beyond robbing content creators, these websites pose significant risks to consumers through identity theft and malware.

Shutting down these sites, which clearly operate outside the law and distort competition by creating an illegal black market, will go a long way in combating digital theft.