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Law Professors Join Critics of Antipiracy Bill Discussed at House Hearings

The controversial Stop Online Piracy Act, if enacted, would threaten due process and “the very heart of the Internet,” a group of law professors told Congress in an open letter made public on Tuesday.

More than 100 professors at law schools across the nation have signed a letter about a similar piece of legislation pending in the Senate: S. 968, the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011, or Protect-IP. In the letter circulated yesterday, the signers cite three major problems in the bill, HR 3261, known as SOPA. They say it would unfairly expand liability for online copyright infringement, allow the government to block access to Web sites that facilitate infringement, and permit private rights holders to block Web sites to host ads or conduct credit-card sales.

“Most significantly, it would do all of the above while violating our core tenets of due process,” write Mark A. Lemley of Stanford Law School, David S. Levine of the Elon University School of Law, and David Post of the Temple University School of Law. “By failing to guarantee the challenged Web sites notice or an opportunity to be heard in court before their sites are shut down, SOPA represents the most ill-advised and destructive intellectual-property legislation in recent memory.”

The law professors are far from alone in condemning the bill, which has sparked protests from copyright-reform activists, Internet companies, the online-game industry, and other groups, including academic librarians. Nine big Web companies, including Google, Facebook, Mozilla, and Twitter, sent their own protest letter on Tuesday to members of Congress. The Library Copyright Alliance, which includes the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries, and the Association of College & Research Libraries, last week expressed its own “serious concerns” about the bill. SOPA was introduced last month by Rep. Lamar Smith, a Republican of Texas, and several co-sponsors.

The House Judiciary Committee, which is led by Mr. Smith, held hearings on SOPA on Wednesday. “Under current law, rogue sites that profit from selling pirated goods are often out of the reach of U.S. law-enforcement agencies and operate without consequences,” he said in his opening remarks. “The Stop Online Piracy Act helps stop the flow of revenue to rogue Web sites and ensures that the profits from American innovations go to American innovators.”

Among the bill’s critics, only Google appeared on the witness list. Katherine Oyama, the company’s copyright counsel, told the committee that Google supported the goal of fighting “foreign rogue Web sites” that engage in copyright infringement and online piracy. But Google “cannot support the bill as written, as it would expose law-abiding U.S. Internet and technology companies to new uncertain liabilities, private rights of action, and technology mandates that could require monitoring of Web sites and social media,” Ms. Oyama said in her testimony.

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