How Protect IP Works

Piracy is a global problem, which makes enforcing local laws problematic at best.
Piracy is a global problem, which makes enforcing local laws problematic at best.

In 1998, United States President Bill Clinton signed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) into law. The purpose of the legislation was to bolster protection of copyright in a world where piracy and copyright infringement is easier than ever. If you wanted to sell illegal copies of a book 500 years ago, you had to have access to a printing press or have a lot of spare time and immaculate handwriting. These days, a couple of clicks with a mouse can net you an author's entire bibliography in a few moments. Just pop on the Internet and you can distribute those works to millions of people. Piracy has become a very big deal.

While the DMCA gives copyright holders some protection, there are limits to its scope. That's not necessarily a bad thing -- some limitations protect innocent parties. For example, under the DMCA, sites like YouTube are protected if users upload material that infringes upon some other entity's intellectual property. In these cases, the sites are providing a service rather than the content itself.

But there are other limitations to the DMCA that have inspired lawmakers to propose new legislation to fill in some gaps. One big problem is that the Internet is global. When you visit a Web site, the server that hosts the files you're viewing could be on the other side of the world. The United States government has no jurisdiction over computers that exist outside its borders. So how can a copyright holder pursue a complaint if someone in another country steals intellectual property?

In 2011, Senator Patrick Leahy introduced an act in the United States Senate called Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property (Protect IP). The purpose of this act is to target Web sites hosted on servers outside the jurisdiction of the United States that perpetuate piracy of United States goods.

Let's take a look at how this proposed legislation tries to combat the problem of piracy.