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10 Years After SOPA/PIPA, Evidence Is Clear: Blocking Piracy Websites Doesn’t “Break the Internet,” New Report Concludes; U.S. Should Let Rightsholders Seek Injunctions

January 26, 2022

Riley Nelson

[email protected]

(202) 626-5744

WASHINGTON—In January 2012, U.S. lawmakers scuttled legislation to block websites that traffic in pirated content after opponents instigated a backlash, claiming it would “break the Internet” by disrupting its technical functions and institutionalizing censorship. But 10 years later, dozens of countries have enacted similar laws, and their track records prove the alarmists were wrong, according to a new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the leading think tank for science and technology policy, which recommends that Congress allow rightsholders to seek legal injunctions for ISPs to block access to piracy sites.

Marking the 10-year anniversary of the House and Senate bills known as SOPA/PIPA, ITIF’s report examines the empirical evidence and case history in 33 countries with laws allowing popular piracy sites to be blocked, including rights-respecting democracies such as Australia, India, Israel, and many European countries. Their experience shows website-blocking policies to be effective in reducing piracy and increasing use of legal content services without impinging civil rights or undermining the open Internet.

“The core argument against SOPA/PIPA was that blocking piracy websites would literally and figuratively ‘break the Internet,’ but those fears turned out to be entirely unfounded, as ITIF stated at the time. The record in dozens of countries shows it’s both beneficial and benign,” said Nigel Cory, ITIF’s associate director of trade policy, who authored the report. “The United States should follow other countries’ lead in adopting website blocking as a tool against large-scale digital piracy, because it is a persistent problem that threatens the jobs and economic and cultural contributions of America’s creative sectors, especially film, television, video games, and music.”

In reviewing academic and industry research on outcomes in countries that have implemented website-blocking laws, ITIF’s report analyzes legal judgements such as those handed down by the European Union’s high court, which has found that the policy is effective, proportionate, necessary, and does not impinge on civil rights or net neutrality. The court’s legal opinion answers many common questions and concerns about website blocking, and it refutes many SOPA/PIPA-era criticisms that would likely resurface if the United States were to reconsider the use of website blocking.

Based on the evidence, ITIF recommends that Congress enact legislation allowing rightsholders to ask courts for legal injunctions directing ISPs to block access to piracy websites involved in the mass distribution of copyright-infringing material. The report says the United States should follow emerging best practices in allowing for dynamic and live injunction orders to address how piracy sites often shift to proxy sites and pirate streams of live events. It should also allow rightsholders to target cyberlockers and stream-ripping services. And ITIF recommends that legislation provide judicial oversight and an option for redress to prevent websites from being blocked unfairly.

As a first step, ITIF suggests that Congress direct the U.S. Copyright Office to conduct a detailed study into website blocking and its potential use in the United States. The study should analyze the impacts of piracy on the U.S. economy and the U.S. creative space and provide a comparative analysis of other countries’ website-blocking measures.

“It’s time for the United States to move on from the SOPA/PIPA debate,” said Cory. “It’s a false choice to suggest the Internet can only be completely free or closed. Given the economic cost of digital piracy, it’s obvious that not all of the content online deserves to be freely available and protected by law. What matters is where the appropriate lines are drawn to target major piracy sites, and how they are overseen by courts.”

Read the report.

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The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute focusing on the intersection of technological innovation and public policy. Recognized by its peers in the think tank community as the global center of excellence for science and technology policy, ITIF’s mission is to formulate and promote policy solutions that accelerate innovation and boost productivity to spur growth, opportunity, and progress.

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