They Want To Stop Online Piracy, We Want To Stop Online Censorship

Posted on February 16, 2012 by

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By Joseph Nawn

It seems nowadays that the only thing that Democrats and Republicans can agree on is internet censorship. With the introduction of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) by U.S. Representative Lamar S. Smith (R-TX) and the introduction of the similar bill Protect IP Act (PIPA) by Senator Patrick Leahy   (D-VT) Congress seems determined to pass any kind of bill that might aide them in preventing copyright infringement, especially from foreign websites that are outside of the United States jurisdiction.

SOPA was first introduced on October 26, 2011 by the House Judiciary Committee Chair Representative Lamar S. Smith (R-TX) with a group of 12 initial co-sponsors.  The main focus of the bill is to combat online piracy networks allowing copyright infringement such as Mediafire, Rapidshare, The Pirate Bay, and the now late Megaupload which was shut down by the U.S. Department of Justice on January 19, 2012. Many of these file-sharing networks have been able to make millions of dollars through paid advertisements by other companies and have been able to evade being shut down by establishing their headquarters in areas outside the United States.

If SOPA was made a law it would allow the United States Department of Justice, as well as copyright holders, to seek court orders against such file-sharing websites even if they are based outside of the U.S. It would also prevent businesses from doing any further advertising with these illegal sites as well as bar them from connecting to search engines such as Google. In layman’s terms it would effectively give the United States Department of Justice the ability to completely censor and prevent users from even going on to such sites. Even Forbe’s Magazine writes it, “would give the government enough power to not only attempt to stop piracy and fail, BUT while failing would also infringe on free speech, cost millions of jobs and hamper innovation all at the same time.”

In addition to dealing with copyright infringement the bill would also cover penalties dealing with websites involved with selling counterfeit drugs, military materials, and consumer goods. The law however, would also expand such penalties to a maximum of five years in prison for any unauthorized streaming of copyright material.

The Protect IP Act, which was introduced on May 12, 2011, is very similar to SOPA in the sense that its aim is to also sever any connection with “rogue websites” to search engines and would also effectively prevent a user from even accessing the site. The main intent of PIPA, however, is to in a way give the government more tools to combat online piracy and not so much on implementing stricter penalties.

Opponents of the bills say that they violate the First Amendment and that this kind of internet censorship will eventually cripple the internet and become the catalyst for violations of other free speech actions. Opponents such as presidential candidate Ron Paul (R-TX) warn that the bills would lead to “an explosion of innovation-killing lawsuits and litigation.” However it is not just the common people who have risen up in opposition to the bill; many large companies such as Google, Yahoo, AOL, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, the Mozilla Corporation, Reddit, and Wikipedia have expressed extreme opposition to the bill. An estimated 7,000 websites such as Wikipedia and Reddit completely shut down their websites on January 18, 2012 in protest to these bills and most of them only allowed people to send emails to their congressmen to demand them not to pass SOPA or PIPA. Lawmakers collected an unprecedented amount of 14 million names petitioning against the bills and an estimated 10 million of these names were voters. Needless to say the bill lost much support and lost co-sponsors fast.

Supporters of the bill such as a number of congressmen, the Motion Picture Association of America, and the Recording Industry Association of America claim that the bill is essential in combating online piracy and will boost revenue into the economy while simultaneously creating more jobs. However, when websites are required to constantly monitor their websites to make sure no other third parties are posting copyrighted material to their site; who is to say if it will really boost revenue or cripple companies.

January 18, 2012 will most assuredly be looked at as an important date in history in the fight against online censorship in the United States. Congressmen were extremely shocked at the animosity and extreme opposition to the bill and postponed the voting on the bills that would have taken place on January 24, 2012 to sometime in late February so that the bill could be revised.

More online protests can clearly be seen by such “hacktivist” groups such as the group, Anonymous, who according to the New York Times, hacked and shutdown the websites of the Justice Department, FBI, Universal Music Group, the Recording Industry Association of America, and the Motion Picture Association of America in protest to the U.S. Department of Justice and FBI shutdown of Megauplaod the same day the file sharing network was shut down. Every should be on the lookout, however, for similar bills in the future whether it’s called SOPA or PIPA it will still be a rose by any other name.

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