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Software alliance yanks support for piracy bill

In a move that would seem to be against its own interests, the Business Software Alliance — which includes Microsoft, Apple, Intel and Adobe, and focuses heavily on anti-piracy efforts — is pulling its support of federal legislation aimed at stopping Internet piracy.

Less than a month ago, the alliance was behind the bill: "The Business Software Alliance today commended House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) for introducing the 'Stop Online Piracy Act' (H.R. 3261) to curb the growing rash of software piracy and other forms of intellectual property theft that are being perpetrated by illicit websites," the group said in a news release.

What's happened since then? Many have taken a closer look at the bill's provisions, including one that requires websites and telecom service providers to be monitoring their networks for piracy, and another that would let law enforcement actually seize a website and shut it down.

"Many Silicon Valley companies agree that piracy is a problem but say the legislation goes too far," said The Washington Post last week. "Web giants including Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Linked­In, eBay, and Mozilla ... co-wrote a letter to Senate and House lawmakers urging Congress to reconsider the measures. They fear the proposals would invite lawsuits and empower law enforcement to shut down their operations if a copyrighted movie or song appeared on their sites without their authorization."

Now, the Business Software Alliance, which tackles piracy issues on a regular basis, agrees that "valid and important questions have been raised about the bill." BSA president Robert Holleyman wrote on the group's blog:

It is intended to get at the worst of the worst offenders. As it now stands, however, it could sweep in more than just truly egregious actors. To fix this problem, definitions of who can be the subject of legal actions and what remedies are imposed must be tightened and narrowed. Due process, free speech, and privacy are rights cannot be compromised. And the security of networks and communications is indispensable to a thriving Internet economy. Some observers have raised reasonable questions about whether certain SOPA provisions might have unintended consequences in these areas. BSA has long stood against filtering or monitoring the Internet. All of these concerns should be duly considered and addressed.

It's pretty unusual to have legislation in the pipeline that is not getting the blessing of the major players, from Google to Facebook, Apple to Microsoft. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBCUniversal.)

The alliance says it hopes to work with Smith and the House Judiciary Committee to "resolve these issues." A committee aide told the Post that the congressman is open to changes, but only "legitimate changes."

The aide, who spoke anonymously, told the Post that some sites "are totally capable of filtering illegal content, but they won’t and are instead profiting from the traffic of illegal content.”

Christian Dawson, COO of commercial Web hosting provider ServInt, said SOPA and another proposed law, the PROTECT-IP Act (PIPA), need to be closely examined. On ServInt's blog, Dawson explained the potential impact of both bills for those trying to understand them:

... if you walked into Best Buy and saw something on the shelf you thought was pirated merchandise, under a law like the DMCA you would work with the store to get that product off the shelf. Under a law like PIPA or SOPA, you would force the landlord to close Best Buy.

Innovation cannot thrive in such an environment. Businesses won’t tolerate continuing to host on U.S.-based servers with the uncertainty that this model creates.

Enacting such laws to combat copyright infringement, he said, "would be like using a flamethrower to find a needle in a haystack." The issue now is whether that torch will be lit.

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