Senator Shaheen Defends PIPA, Badly

[stop PIPA]

Following my own advice, I sent e-mail to my Congressman (Frank Guinta) and both New Hampshire's senators, Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte) opposing SOPA (the "Stop Online Piracy Act" being considered in the House) and PIPA (the "Protect IP Act" in the Senate).

I (so far, only) have received mail back from Senator Shaheen. Hope she doesn't mind if I post it here:

Dear Paul,
OK, so we're on a first-name basis. I'll call her "Jeanne" from here on out.
Thank you for contacting my office about online intellectual property rights. I appreciate hearing from you about this important issue.
As previously noted, Jeanne is one of the co-sponsors of PIPA. I didn't really expect to change her mind, but…
The illegal online sale and distribution of copyright-protected material over the Internet has increased dramatically in the past decade. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has estimated that the theft and illegal online sale of products like music, movies, books, and television shows costs the U.S. economy tens of billions of dollars each year, and according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the manufacture and distribution of counterfeit goods has already cost the U.S. over 750,000 jobs. I am a cosponsor of the PROTECT IP Act, which would provide the Justice Department with new tools to crack down on websites whose primary purpose is to illegally distribute intellectual property or counterfeit goods.
The single specific number here, "750,000 jobs", looks impressive!

Guess what? It's also known to be "utterly bogus." It was convincingly debunked over three years ago by Julian Sanchez in an Ars Technica article. The General Accounting Office issued a report nearly two years ago that noted that number (among others) could not be "substantiated or traced back to an underlying data source or methodology." Which is (as these guys note) bureaucratese for "made up out of thin air."

Similarly for Jeanne's vaguer "tens of billions of dollars each year." (Although some even wilder people have claimed costs of $200-$250 Billion-with-a-B yearly.) There are simply no reliable figures there. But let's say $50 billion; that works out to about $160 per US Citizen—is that even credible? I'm not even doing close to my share, are you? The latter link makes a good point:

As Mark Twain once wrote, there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. However true that may be in general, statistics can be particularly tricky when they are used to assess the effects of IP piracy. Unlike stealing a car, copying a song doesn’t necessarily inflict a tangible loss on another. Estimating that loss requires counterfactual assumptions about what the world would have been like if the piracy had never happened — and, no surprise, those most affected tend to assume the worst.
Jeanne appears to have zero skepticism when it comes to believing hype from special interests.

She continues:

I understand that concerns have been raised about this bill's potential effects on free speech and innovation on the Internet. However, I believe this bill strikes a commonsense balance in strengthening intellectual property rights and protecting Internet freedom by providing the Justice Department and American companies with a process by which they can attempt to show that a website based overseas has no significant use other than the illegal distribution of intellectual property and counterfeit goods.
I find that lawyer Marvin Ammori is more believable than Jeanne here. For example:
[SOPA and PIPA] do not, as often advertised by the copyright industry, merely target foreign “rogue” sites like the Pirate Bay. They are not even limited to sites guilty of any copyright infringement, direct or even contributory infringement. Instead, the bills would extend not only to foreign but also to domestic websites that merely “facilitate” or “enable” infringement. Thus, in their language, the bills target considerable protected speech on legitimate sites such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. The bills also affect non-infringing speech by search engines, advertisers, and domain name providers.

Coupled with this overbroad scope, the bills authorize remedies that lack the usual procedural safeguards, ensuring that even more protected, non-infringing speech will be restricted. Even though a judicial determination is generally required to remove speech from circulation, the House version empowers copyright-holders to send notices to payment processors and advertisers to shut off funding for non-infringing sites that meet the bill’s broad definitions. The bills also encourage over-enforcement by making companies immune from suit for mistakenly punishing sites outside even the bills’ over-expansive scope.

So, sorry Jeanne: your defense of this legislation is weak. But I appreciate that you tried. I've yet to hear anything at all from your colleagues. However, this may mean that they, unlike you, are too embarrassed to even attempt to offer reasons to support this legislation.