Why SOPA is unconstitutional

The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Corynne McSherry looks at the revised version of the Stop Online Piracy Act that is going to markup today, and finds that it does not address the substantive First Amendment issues raised by scholars who've weighed in since its introduction.

First, both bills would still result in the censoring of non-infringing speech. That is because they allow for the blocking of entire websites – even though the site may contain a great deal of perfectly legal speech. The Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed, "broad prophylactic rules in the area of free expression are suspect . . . Precision of regulation must be the touchstone in an area so closely touching our most precious freedoms." As Professor Laurence Tribe puts it, "The First Amendment requires that the government proceed with a scalpel – by prosecuting those who break the law – rather than with the sledgehammer approach of SOPA, which would silence speech across the board." And if you think the government will at least be precise in choosing which sites to target (not that the Constitutional analysis turns on the government's good intentions), recall the disgraceful treatment of some of the sites targeted by the government as part of "Operation In Our Sites."

Second, the bills allow the government to obtain blocking orders without an adversary proceeding, which means that the right of U.S. citizens to receive information from abroad would be denied, without any real test of the merits of the infringement claim. To be clear, this process is unconstitutional even though the originators of the speech are outside of the United States (though, in some cases, the originators could be U.S. residents, e.g., folks posting comments on a foreign site's forums), because the First Amendment protects our right to receive information as well as send it. Tribe points to a chilling parallel in a Supreme Court case which held that the Post Office could not keep a list of U.S. citizens receiving "communist political propaganda" (which, of course, intimidated those citizens from doing so) even though the "propagandists" were located abroad.

This is your last chance to call your lawmaker before the markup begins. Act now and save the Internet!

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