A Cockroach and a Bazooka

Congratulations to all of you who decided to get involved with your government. You have had a real impact on the legislative process. As I watched my Twitter account explode, I couldn’t help but grin. This is how it’s supposed to work. Thousands of people, not lobbyists or organized special interest groups, began petitioning their government in a way that those who wrote the Constitution could never have envisioned. With lightning speed, and in great numbers, you typed and swiped, cut and pasted, Tweeted and Facebooked, and you killed a bill. Bravo.

As a former prosecutor, I want to go after cheats and frauds. Illegal sale of counterfeit goods and piracy of intellectual property is major problem that hurts our economy and goes against the values we all hold dear, particularly that as Americans we are entitled to the fruits of our labors. We believe in the basic ethic of, “work hard and play by the rules.”

But every piece of legislation has to be examined carefully for the unintended consequences. PIPA was designed to go after foreign rogue websites that are selling or providing access to illegal copies of video and audio content and counterfeited goods. These websites are stealing copyrighted material and selling it on the Internet. This hurts musicians and artists who own the rights to the content they have created as well as small businesses and retailers that want to legitimately sell their goods. Additionally, all of the people who support and work in these industries see their work diminished and their jobs negatively influenced. This is an issue we must address and we can address.

However, as drafted, PIPA created more problems than it was trying to solve. The Internet is a powerful tool and its unrestricted exchange of information has allowed all parts of the world to interact with each other, while growing the global economy. But the affect that PIPA would have on our current copyright laws and our ability to access the Internet is unclear.  Many provisions in the bill were written too broadly. This could have resulted in increased litigation, the targeting of legitimate websites and more liability for reputable businesses.

Many people have noted that the former background picture on my Twitter account was taken from an open site where information can be shared freely. I didn’t properly credit the photographer, for which I am sorry.

Although this is not the behavior PIPA was targeting, the notion that a casual use of a picture — itself simply grabbed from Google Images by my then 19-year-old daughter as she helped me set up my Twitter account — could become the source of major legal problems gives me pause when I think of what similar situations could arise in a broader context. We must not pass any legislation unless it is narrowly tailored and reduces the risk of unintended consequences on the medium of the internet that is so important to innovation and information sharing.

There were, in short, too many unanswered questions about how PIPA would affect the operations of the Internet and the ramifications it could have on search engines and other providers. We need to go after thieves, but we don’t want to kill a cockroach with a bazooka. Because there are many complicated technical and legal issues that still need to be addressed, I will not support PIPA as it is currently drafted and will not support any bill in the future that threatens the freedom of the Internet in such a broad and unpredictable way.  

Thank you all for contacting me, especially those who live in the state that I love, Missouri.
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