Spanish newspaper El Pais published a story last Wednesday, January 4, that sent chills down the spines of a number of American tech writers.
The story described a leaked letter published by Wikileaks, sent in mid-December 2011 by Alan D. Solomont, U.S. ambassador to Spain and Andorra, addressed to the Spanish government, in which Solomont threatened to put the country on an international diplomatic blacklist if it didn’t enact a “SOPA-style censorship law,” that had been passed last year, as the blog TorrentFreak deemed the legislation, referring to America’s own controversial proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).
Spain ended up enacting the so-called Sinde Law (named after a former culture minister) on January 2, giving Spanish authorities the power to shutdown file-sharing websites accused of piracy and/or compel Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block them.
But when asked by TPM whether or not U.S. diplomacy had anything to do with the law, the State Department declined to comment, providing TPM with the following statement:
The Department of State does not comment on materials, including classified documents, which may have been leaked.
The State Department and its diplomats are on the frontlines, working with governments on vital reform and enforcement of intellectual property regulations that protect the innovation, ingenuity and creativity of the American people.
Furthermore, a State Department spokesperson told TPM that it was “no secret” that the State Department considered intellectual property rights enforcement abroad to be a “critical issue,” and that as such it was also no secret that the U.S. was “working with governments around the world” to “come up with new ideas” on how to do so.
“Violations of IPR (intellectual property rights) are a threat to the very ingenuity of American enterprise,” the State Department spokesperson told TPM.
Still, when asked about how the State Department viewed the proposed SOPA — which like Spain’s Sinde Law, would allow the American government to order ISPs to block users from foreign websites accused of copyright infringement — the spokesperson remained tight-lipped, providing only the following non-statement:
“The Department of State does not provide comment on pending legislation. The Administration is in continual contact with Congress on a broad spectrum of issues, including those related to the Internet and the protection of Intellectual Property. “
The news is likely to come as a frustration to the increasing number of those Web companies, writers and users who have criticized SOPA for being a broad overreach that would “break the Internet” from a technical and user standpoint and severely erode innovation, economic growth and Free Speech.
It’s also at odds with what avid SOPA critic and knowledgable IP writer Mike Masnick of Techdirt reported in late December 2011, writing: “Much of the State Department is strenuously opposed to the bill, knowing darn well that it would do significant harm to their efforts to push internet freedom and openness around the globe.”
Masnick attempted to counter the idea that the State Department was in favor of SOPA as evidenced by an oft-quoted letter sent by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to SOPA cosponsor Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) on October 25, 2011 — a day before SOPA was introduced to the House — in which she wrote “There is no contradiction between intellectual property rights protection and enforcement and ensuring freedom of expression on the internet.” Al Jazeera characterized it as a “tacit endorsement” of the legislation.
The situation was further complicated by the fact that Clinton in early December 2011 gave a rousing speech about the importance of Internet freedom and urging countries not to restrict online access at a conference in the Hague, prompting the Atlantic Wire’s Adam Clark Estes to label her a “digital freedom superhero.”
Unfortunately for Masnick and those that value the current state of the U.S. Internet, based on their responses to our questions, it appears as though the State Department — while not openly in favor of SOPA — may at least be in lockstop with the principle of the proposed legislation.