Protecting intellectual property sounds like such a noble cause that you'd have to be a anarchistic free-market extremist to be against the idea, right? Actually, we don't think Google CEO Eric Schmidt is particularly extreme
in any definable way, yet this past week he spoke with gusto, railing against the proposed Protect IP Act, which was designed to "prevent online threats to economic creativity and theft of intellectual property." If passed into law, it would give the government the right to shut down any "Internet site dedicated to infringing activities" -- "infringing activities" largely being of the sort that allows dude A to download copyrighted item B from dude C when it's unclear whether dude C has legal rights to be distributing B in the first place.
So, you know, it's targeting the Pirate Bay
and its ilk, giving government officials greater power to sweep in and snag the domains of such sites. Schmidt calls this approach a set of "arbitrarily simple solutions to complex problems" that "sets a very bad precedent." The precedent? That it's okay for democratic governments to go and kill any site they don't like, something Schmidt says would only encourage restrictive policies in countries like China. While we don't think China really needs any sort of encouragement at all to keep on building up its Great Firewall
, we tend to agree that this is a much more complicated problem than the Act makes it out to be. That said, one must admit that Schmidt's opinions are necessarily somewhat swayed by the knowledge that any such law would also have a negative impact on the business of search engines in general.
But of course no such volley of words could go unanswered from the two shining knights of copyright protection, the MPAA and RIAA, which mounted up their corporate blogs, rode down from twin castles full of lawyers, and collectively told Schmidt he's full of it. The MPAA spun Schmidt's comments into some sort of act of civil disobedience, saying that "Google seems to think it's above America's laws." Meanwhile, the RIAA called the statement "a confusing step backwards by one of the most influential internet companies." Obviously it's only going to get nastier from here, so buckle your seatbelts, place your bets, and hang on to your BitTorrent clients.