Congress Tees Up Next Cliff – Internet Tax Freedom Act
Even if you don’t know what the Internet Tax Freedom Act is, you’ll probably learn a lot more about by the end of this year.
The Internet Tax Freedom Act, introduced by Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Christopher Cox, was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on Oct 21, 1998.
To paraphrase the late Sen. Ted Stevens, this bill prevents states from putting up access valves and toll booths on the pipes that bring you the Internet.
The law is set to expire on Nov 1, 2014, after which your state and local governments will be free to tax your Internet access.
Unless… it is extended further by Congress. Of course, Congress isn’t familiar with the concept of keeping it simple, so schemes are being hatched to turn it into a political football.
You might be aware of the Marketplace Fairness Act, which Congress has been tinkering around with for a long, long time now. This bill would set the framework allowing states to impose and collect sales and use tax on online sales.
Now since the Internet Tax Freedom Act is expiring, there’s some people who want to combine both bills, thereby hoping to get both critical Internet-related legislations approved in a single vote.
The thinking is that if both bills are combined, the ticking clock and deadline for the Internet Tax Freedom Act will cut through the gridlock that’s holding back the Marketplace Fairness Act.
Whether they attempt to do it this way or take up the Internet Tax Freedom Act as a stand-alone bill, it’s a virtual certainty that this is going to be a last-minute affair with both sides blaming each other for letting it expire.
Throw in the mid-term election hype and distractions, and it’s fair to say that the Internet Tax Freedom Act is most likely dead for now, and will have to be revived retroactively after the elections by the next Congress.
At that time, this whole debate about whether to combine it with the Marketplace Fairness Act will once again pop up, so it’s possible that both bills will pass and be signed into law sometime in 2015.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be any fireworks right before Nov 1, and the media and tech community will surely start piling on Congress with doomsday scenarios.
Note that state and local governments don’t necessarily have to impose an Internet access tax even after the law expires. But guess which state will rush to impose a tax before anyone else?
Oh yes, if it comes to that, it’s likely to be Silicon Valley that will be the first to face an Internet access tax.
I sent an email to Junior Minister Sean Sherlock, Minister Bruton and Enda Kenny today to outline my stance on the SOPA legislation. This legislation was signed into law late yesterday afternoon despite the signatures of over 80,000 voters who voiced their concerns about the issue and without any form of public consultation.
Sean Sherlock has no expertise in the area in which he has passed these highly questionable laws. I simply do not believe that an individual whose previous role as “Spokesperson For Agriculture & Food” has the prerequisite experience or in depth knowledge to be passing or amending existing laws without first entering into a period of public consultation and discussion and then finally ending with a vote being held among our elected officials in the Dail which would then determine if this new piece of legislation will be passed or not.
Surely a law or an amendment to a law such as this which has wide reaching implications would have to be voted upon in any democracy and not simply introduced without any opposition.
Im not expecting an answer from Sean Sherlock or anyone from the government as he has ignored the pleas of over 80,000 people not to mention the countless people who have emailed him directly over the past number of weeks.
Dear Junior Minister Sherlock and Minister Bruton,
Yesterday you signed into law legislation dubbed the “Irish SOPA” without any form of public consultation. I’m wondering why you Sean Sherlock chose to ignore the petition signed by almost 100,000 registered voters and failed to proactively address the controversy that has surrounded this issue since it was first announced. From day one the description of this legislation has been vague at best and your efforts at even explaining its finer points to the few members of the Dail that were present when these issues were discussed (who; in no disrespect to them would have any idea about the finer points and the wide reaching implications of this so called “law”) were even more ambiguous. This law isn’t only about downloading copyright material it’s about draconian measures being implemented to control copyright content in general and the complete obliteration of our internet freedom as we know it.
Today, TheJournal.ie reported that: THE JUNIOR MINISTER responsible for the introduction of a new law dubbed the ‘Irish SOPA’ has said a public consultation launched yesterday could lead to new laws which would supersede the current law – but only if “everybody calls off the dogs”. So after choosing to ignore the public outcry regarding this ill-conceived piece of legislation your saying that you are simply going to ignore these constituents after they have visibly made their legitimate concerns be known to both you and this government. You’ve obviously been receiving enough correspondence from disgruntled voters to warrant using a statement like “calls off the dogs”. I find it quiet disconcerting that you; an elected public official would choose to label thousands of registered voters as “dogs”.
Your blatant disregard for the people of this “democracy” beggars belief. You have been elected by the very people you have chosen to ignore and all of this because EMI has threatened the government with legal action because they themselves didn’t have the foresight to adopt in a digital age and implement a new business model. You have also stated that “downstream, if we need to work on new copyright laws” which basically means that any new copyright laws will be determined by the corporations and enforced by the Irish Government at their request. It seems that democracy now cohabits with EMI.
This law has not been enforced to protect copyright holders it has been enforced to appease the record companies who have been “campaigning” for years to force measures such as this into law. Can you please explain to me and the general public how these new measures (e.g. blocking websites suspected of containing copyright material) will help prevent content owned by EMI and other record companies from being pirated by users? Can you also provide the indisputable evidence to the public which actually proves that downloading any form of copyright material from certain websites has directly attributed to a substantial loss of revenue for these corporations?
Regarding social networking; I’d also like to point out that recently the EU Court Of Justice has ruled that social networks can’t be forced to monitor and filter content which could be potentially infringe copyright. In the modern day to day life most people use social media as a platform to share content between themselves and their friends. This raises a number of key concerns:
Does this mean if someone sings “Happy Birthday”, records & uploads it to YouTube and then shares it on Facebook that this person can be sued for breach of copyright?
Does this mean that if one of their friends then post’s a picture of a birthday cake (taken from Google Images where practically every image on there is copyright) underneath the video that they have just linked to on YouTube that they will also be prosecuted for breach of copyright?
Or will the larger corporations like Google, YouTube etc be given free licence to post copyright content while the end user doesn’t have permission to use said material?
These are huge questions that arise from one simple action. By not agreeing to enter into public consultation before this was passed into law you have completely ignored the concerns of the people who voted for you and your party. Are you going to resist and bypass EU law at the request record companies like EMI?
I have also noticed that on your website that you are linking to various clips of yourself on RTE. The copyright of these clips are owned by RTE. Did you request permission to use these clips and if you have not done so can you please tell me when you plan on requesting permission to use these clips owned by the national broadcaster?
Finally, as the Junior Minister For Technology and Innovation; can you please tell me how implementing legislation like this will help attract future investors to these shores? When the US tried to implement similar types of measures Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt described it as “worrying”. They failed of course but it wasn’t for the want of trying. Google directly employs over 2000 people in Ireland and many more indirectly and if a company like Google decide to vacate these shores because of some hastily prepared piece of legislation then this government will have a lot to answer for. Which brings me back to my earlier point that you simply can’t enforce one rule for corporations and another for individuals.
This law will do untold damage to Irelands reputation as a country which actively promotes innovation and investment. It will seriously hinder our economic recovery and could potentially prevent further development across the business spectrum.
Your naivety and indifferent attitude towards the public outcry surrounding the issue of internet legislation and the duplicitous means by which this legislation was signed into law has ensured that I will never vote for you, your party, your policies or the current government ever again.