Dec. 15, 2011 at 2:52 PM ET
Vinton Cerf, one of the Internet's pioneers, and 82 other Internet inventors and engineers have signed an open letter to Congress protesting both a controversial piracy bill known as SOPA and related Internet legislation that they say would "create an environment of tremendous fear and uncertainty for technological innovation, and seriously harm the credibility of the United States in its role as a steward of key Internet infrastructure."
The first bill, the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA), scheduled to go before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee Thursday, makes the streaming of unauthorized content a felony. But, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation warns, the bill's "vague language would create devastating new tools for silencing legitimate speech all around the Web."
The Protect-IP Act, a bill in the Senate, would do much the same thing. The Business Software Alliance — which includes Microsoft, Apple, Intel and Adobe, and focuses heavily on anti-piracy efforts — is opposed to SOPA, as are major players in tech, including Google, Apple and Facebook.
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SOPA would require websites and telecom service providers to monitor content and traffic across their networks for piracy, and let law enforcement actually seize a website and shut it down.
The letter, shared by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, (the full list of names is here), says, in part:
Regardless of recent amendments to SOPA, both bills will risk fragmenting the Internet's global domain name system (DNS) and have other capricious technical consequences. In exchange for this, such legislation would engender censorship that will simultaneously be circumvented by deliberate infringers while hampering innocent parties' right and ability to communicate and express themselves online.
All censorship schemes impact speech beyond the category they were intended to restrict, but these bills are particularly egregious in that regard because they cause entire domains to vanish from the Web, not just infringing pages or files. Worse, an incredible range of useful, law-abiding sites can be blacklisted under these proposals.
Cerf, who is also Google's chief evangelist, has been joined by Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt in opposing the legislation, which is supported by the Motion Picture Association of America, the Directors Guild of America, the Recording Industry Association of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which estimates the cost of online piracy at $135 million a year.
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee and is the lead sponsor of SOPA, said recently that claims that the law threatens Internet freedoms are "blatantly false."