Friday, January 20, 2012

Ask the IP Attorney: What is SOPA?

My question to Alex:  What is all of this talk about SOPA and what does it have to do with the blogging world?

Answer:  You are referring to SOPA and PROIP– a House and a Senate bill, respectively – that attempted to legislate enforcement measures against online copyright infringement and counterfeiting websites, many of which emanate from abroad.  This article explains all the issues about it and even gives a good example based upon a recent FBI arrest.  

I think all the uproar and protest was stupid because the bills are necessary but Google used their resources and allied with some other internet content website companies (like Wikipedia) to campaign against the bills because they believe the bills were too ambiguous and overreaching.  Google et. al. claimed that the bills would require censoring internet content or limiting what can go in their search results which therefore violated free speech rights.  But I don’t think the bills aimed to do that and would not target content alone; they only targeted copyrighted content that should not be freely available. 

Obviously, as you saw, Google was pretty effective in their campaign to protest the bills.  I didn’t read the bills and don’t know the language so I supposed they could have been overbroad and apparently a number of the sponsoring lawmakers have retreated and are willing to tweak the bills.  But the copyright holding content community, i.e. record and entertainment companies, and I’m sure many other IP owners like large manufacturers are going to continue to lobby for this very necessary enforcement legislation and I’m sure something will be enacted.  I don’t understand why Google made such a fuss of it because they too create content and own a lot of IP that this law should protect.
I know the internet culture has developed much like any pioneered new territory – i.e. the “Wild West,” outer space, imperialism and colonialism, etc. – with no respect for boundaries and property rights of others but eventually legislation and laws are going to be necessary to allow people to maintain and enforce their legal property rights. I think the internet is finally developing to a point where it is progressing from an undeveloped anarchy to a more structured and governed society. At least that is the case within the U.S. since we obviously can’t control the rest of the world.     

Alex Butterman is a trademark attorney with Staas & Halsey LLP (, a Washington, D.C. IP boutique law firm, and a former trademark examining attorney at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Alex has been assisting U.S. and foreign businesses of all sizes in a wide variety of industries in intellectual property matters since 1995. Alex is admitted to the bars of Washington, D.C., New York and New Jersey and also is an active member of the International Trademark Association. Alex can be contacted at work directly by e-mailing him at
The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Adrienne, his firm, its clients or Adventures in DIY. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

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