If you haven’t yet heard of the Stop Online Piracy Act by now, you’ve probably been living under a rock far removed from the multitude of cat videos and pornographic material the Internet has to offer.
So here’s the deal: The House of Representatives and the Senate are attempting to pass two decisive bills, SOPA and the long-winded Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011, to protect copyrighted material on the Internet. This would, in their words, “promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property, and for other purposes.”
Sounds noble, right?
Well, not exactly. Both PIPA and SOPA would fundamentally change the dynamics of the Internet. The way it stands now, media groups must request copyrighted material be pulled by host websites. After the bills’ passages, these responsibilities would be placed on the shoulders of host websites such as YouTube, Facebook and others to delete offending material. Websites that fail to delete copyrighted material in a timely manner would be blacked out — unable to be found by search engines or other means and cut off from receiving funds through ad revenue.
This would happen, of course, without any shred of due process.
But that’s not all that would be censored.
According to San Diego State lecturer Robert Gillespie, “if a website is accused of copyright infringement, not only can they go after the site in question, but they can make the search engines and any ad networks … cease connection with the website in question.”
If you’re thinking this sounds the least bit Orwellian, you’re doubleplus right. SOPA and PIPA would have drastic consequences for social media and video websites. Policing of copyrighted material would fall on the backs of websites themselves, perhaps becoming a priority nearly as important as their original purpose. And because the wordage of the bill is so broad, it’s impossible to know how much copyrighted material it would take for a website to be blocked. It could be as little as a single offense, or it could be 200.
Website creators are not experts in copyright law. They would be forced to take broader interpretations of copyright infringement simply to exist. Your six-year-old brother’s adorable rendition of “Here Comes the Sun” could face the chopping block.
Sites such as Flickr, Etsy and Vimeo would likely shut down if the bills became law, according to the Electronic Freedom Foundation. Startup social media and search engines would probably never take off because of the massive amount of resources it would take to police their own sites. And any website hosting even so much as a video with a clip of music in the background would be in danger.
Yes, even your porn.
Cruelly, the organizations fighting for the bills’ passages — the Motion Picture Association of America, Viacomm, Time Warner, etc. — already have the means to remove copyrighted material online. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act allows corporations to request offending videos, music and other violating media be taken down from host sites. These bills set an enormous precedent: Not only do SOPA and PIPA open the doors to further censorship in the future, but other countries could follow suit and model similar bills after ours.
Friends, this is a rallying cry. The Internet is one of the true bastions of freedom, where everyone is free to express himself or herself without fear of being censored. It is crucial for social connection, as a marketplace for products and ideas and for sparking greater democracy both domestically and in the Arab Spring.
Sign the petition against online censorship below before it’s too late, and we lose the Internet altogether. Together, we can defeat this.