The SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Internet Property Act) bills were put on the shelf last month because the public and internet community joined together and successfully convinced enough lawmakers in Washington that they were a bad idea. The anti-piracy laws pushed by the Entertainment industry were so broadly written that they threatened the peoples’ right to freedom of speech, and paved the way for government censorship of the internet. In addition, the ISPs, search engines, ad networks, payment companies and sites that provide shared content like YouTube and Facebook would potentially be run out of business because the demands made on them to enforce these laws would be impossible to meet. Since the massive public outcry and internet blackout led by companies like Reddit, Google and Wikipedia on Jan 18th led to the bill’s being shelved just two days later, one would think that democracy prevailed and we can all move on, right? According to a recent article on Gizmodo.com, this is not the case. The push for uncompromising anti-piracy laws continues, “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid still wants to censor the internet with a new bill hidden under the mask of cybersecurity. SOPA in sheep’s clothing.” The following quote by former Senator Chris Dodd, who is now the head of the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) provides a clue as to why these strict bills just won’t go away, “Those who count on quote Hollywood for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who’s going to stand up for them when their job is at stake. Don’t ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don’t pay any attention to me when my job is at stake.”
For those of you who are still fuzzy on what the SOPA bill was about, here’s Wikipedia.org’s description:
“The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is a United States bill introduced by U.S. Representative Lamar S. Smith (R-TX) to expand the ability of US law enforcement to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. Provisions include the requesting of court orders to bar advertising networks and payment facilities from conducting business with infringing websites, and search engines from linking to the sites, and court orders requiring Internet service providers to block access to the sites. The law would expand existing criminal laws to include unauthorized streaming of copyright material, imposing a maximum penalty of five years in prison.”
In other words, if this bill had passed the government would have had the right, without due process, to:
- Immediately shut down any site that might be infringing on copyright laws
- Force advertisers and companies like Paypal to stop doing business with these sites
- Force the ISPs and search engines not to link to such sites
- Throw anyone in jail for up to five years just for sharing content that has been copyrighted
It is disturbing that such loosely written laws that could potentially destroy the internet and threaten democracy were so seriously debated in Washington, and that they continue to show signs of life. This enduring support from lawmakers will inevitably result in deepening the level of mistrust that the American people have for their political leaders. Even more seriously, this alienation is giving rise to extreme groups that are threatening a “Cyber war” against the government. Recently, the group Anonymous took credit for hacking the CIA’s website.
The postponement of the SOPA and PIPA bills proved that Americans still have a voice and that the internet is a free and powerful tool that can be used to alert lawmakers that they are not acting in the best interests of the people they serve. Of course the movie and music makers have a right to shield themselves against piracy, but more fair and balanced laws are required. Unfortunately, despite massive protests by millions, such laws do not seem to be in the works right now. The best case scenario in the near future is that, with the help of the internet, the people keep fighting and winning (while mistrust of the government deepens). The worse case scenario is that these unpopular bills, in whatever mask they are wearing, actually become law. And then what? Tell me what you think.