Skip to main content

Clinton: Free Internet, IP Protection Are 'Mutually Consistent'

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that Internet freedom -- a foreign policy priority -- and protecting copyrights and trademarks are not contradictory

That came in response to a September letter from Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.)  asking whether the PROTECT IP Act and Stop Online Theft Act (Berman is a co-sponsor of the latter), which target web sites pirating content, would conflict with the State Department's policy of promoting Internet freedom. In a Jan. 2010 speech, Clinton spoke of Internet freedom as a key to foreign and domestic policy going forward. "An attack on one nation's network is an attack on all," she said. She said the message was for this country as well as our neighbors.

The Secretary of State did not refer to the bills, but said that the State Department was "strongly committed to advancing both Internet freedom and the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights on the Internet." She said there was no contradiction between the two. Berman, who is vice chair and ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, had said in his letter to Clinton that he wanted her to clarify that point after opponents of the bills, which include consumer electronics manufacturers and fair use advocates, suggested that the bills, which give a private right of action to pursue sites suspected of infringement, could virtually shut down the Internet. That charge was leveled as recently as Thursday (Nov. 3) by Consumer Electronics Association President Gary Shapiro in an interview for C-SPAN.

"When despots shut down the Internet to suppress dissent, the U.S. must condemn it," wrote Berman to Clinton in a September letter. "But that does not mean that governments are defenseless against crime and fraud when it is carried out online." Berman asked Clinton to "publicly affirm that support for Internet Freedom does not extend to the freedom to steal intellectual property."

Clinton made the point, saying that the Internet offers "tremendous opportunities for creators and inventors," but said that promise "will not be met unless the rules of copyright and trademark are protected and enforced."

Foes of the bills, which have been generating a lot of heat on the Hill,  say they are not supporting IP theft, but instead trying to prevent overbroad bills that could shut down sites on mere suspicion and lack due process and other process protections.