Last Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed S. 968, Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011, also known as the Protect IP Act. Its passage represents a real threat to Americans’ access to safe and affordable medications online and we hope that as the bill makes its way through the legislative process it will be amended appropriately.
Essentially, the bill will make it easier to crackdown on rogue pharmacy sites selling fake meds and not requiring a prescription, which is great; however, it will also encourage actions to block Americans’ access to reputable and affordable non-U.S. online pharmacies that sell genuine medication and require a prescription, which are a lifeline for uninsured Americans. That’s because of Section 5, which includes in its definition of “infringing sites” online pharmacies that sell medications to Americans that are not manufactured in a facility approved by the FDA.
A good number of reputable online pharmacies sell genuine and safe drugs from licensed pharmacies in Canada and other countries that were manufactured in plants approved by regulatory authorities in Canada, UK, Australia, or the European Union but not by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Many of those (non-FDA approved) products are made by big drug companies, such as Pfizer, Merck, Eli Lily, and GlaxoSmithKline and are the same products sold here, sometimes under a different name or in a different color, only much cheaper. Americans have come to rely on such online pharmacies to afford prescription medicine, much of it made in U.S. FDA-approved facilities, but not all. If those websites are shutdown consumers will be the victims, as it will mean the removal of their lifeline to safe and affordable medication.
At this time, the bill’s loudest and biggest critics, such as Google, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Demand Progress, decry that it extends government and private sector authority to a level that threatens our right to free speech under the First Amendment, stifles competition and innovation, and undermines our foreign policy stances toward authoritarian governments, as we admonish those states that censor free speech on the Internet. Some, such as Demand Progress, have criticized the bill because it blocks access to safe medicines, as described above, and we hope the others join in.
Senator Wyden has courageously made use of the senate rules to block the bill from reaching the floor for a vote. Senator Wyden’s remarks about Protect IP offer an eloquent summary of why the bill is terribly flawed. How long Sen. Wyden’s block will hold is uncertain, as the process of “cloture” – a vote by 60 senators – can end the block to bring the bill to a vote.
Modifying the Protect IP Act to only affect dangerous pharmacy sites is the right thing to do. With tens of millions of Americans struggling to afford their medication – 25 million going without medication completely in 2009 due to cost – U.S. brand name drug prices are increasingly more expensive than all other countries (often by many multiples), and 50 million Americans remain uninsured. It is wrong to pass legislation that will deprive Americans the ability to buy less expensive, genuine medication from online pharmacies.Americans, Australia, Canada, cloture, Demand Progress, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Eli Lily, European Union, fake meds, FDA, First Amendment, GlaxoSmithKline, Google, legislation, Merck, Online Pharmacies, Pfizer, S.968, Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Wyden, The Protect Intellectual Property Act, UK, United States