The most frustrating part of the discussion around SOPA has been watching politicians and commentators fail to acknowledge the vast resources we already devote to protecting copyright in the United States. Over the past two decades, the United States has established one of the harshest systems of copyright enforcement in the world. Our domestic copyright law has become broader (it covers more topics), deeper (it lasts for a longer time), and more severe (the punishments for infringement have been getting worse). These standards were established through an alphabet soup of legislation: the No Electronic Theft (NET) Act of 1997, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998, and the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property (PRO-IP) Act of 2008. And every few years, there’s a call for more.
Many features of existing U.S. copyright law are harsh by international standards. The U.S. penalizes the attempt to access digital material against a rights-holder’s wishes, even when the material itself is not protected by copyright. We guarantee large monetary awards against infringers, with no showing of actual harm. We effectively require websites to cooperate with rights-holders to take down material, without requiring proof that it’s infringing in court. And our criminal copyright law has such a low threshold that it criminalizes the behavior of most people online, instead of targeting infringement on a true commercial scale.