As of now, the blackout doodle has been taken down, but Google’s call on the public to help defeat SOPA and PIPA, two pieces of legislation that could drastically impact the Internet, is still going strong. And, considering that both fundamentally flawed pieces of legislation are due to be discussed and voted on in their respective houses of Congress in the next two months, that message has never been more important.
The Google Doodle statement is (or was) a visually striking one, but it pales in comparison to the Internet blackout that was successfully orchestrated for today in protest of both bills. Wikipedia, Reddit, WordPress.org, Mozilla, and many other websites will remain dark for part or all of January 18th in a unified action against potentially draconian controls over the Internet that would go into effect should SOPA or PIPA be passed by the United States Congress and signed into law (though it should be noted that the White House has issued a statement in opposition to the pending legislation). Our initial summary of PIPA can be found here, and an article from the Electronic Frontier Foundation on both PIPA and SOPA can be found here.
SOPA, in particular, would give private entities and the United States government broad powers to take action against those who are guilty of copyright infringement by blocking access to the DNS server of the offending site. The government would have the power to blacklist that site with only a complaint lobbied by a copyright holder – no due process of law. Further, sites would be held responsible for all content posted by their users, and would be at risk of penalty or shutdown for any links to material that a plaintiff claims infringes on a copyright. For sites like YouTube and Facebook that are built around user-generated content, it would force an impossible amount of censorship to be undertaken to keep the sites safe from litigation. Theoretically, even Google would be accountable for any links to any site hosting copyright-infringing material. Just try to wrap your head around that one.
Granted, those big tech players might have the money and the legal teams to stave off the worst of what SOPA has to offer. Tech start-ups, on the other hand, don’t. Early rumblings from tech investors indicate that if SOPA or PIPA pass, start-ups won’t be seeing that money coming from them, either. The high costs, both in terms of time and money, that such a large amount of control would require are making investors very reluctant to put money into tech start-ups – potentially stifling what is arguably one of the United States’ strongest sectors at present. Jobs would be lost.
But, if you come out against SOPA or PIPA, don’t do it for those reasons. If for any one reason, consider the fact that these bills would not even succeed in achieving their stated goals. Both bills were written to supposedly thwart Internet piracy, but only DNS servers are affected. Any pirate with a fair to good amount of knowledge about computers and network systems can easily keep sailing the high seas of cyberspace with relative ease.
These bills would harm free speech in what is the most free place in the world today – a fact supported by the repressive regimes the tools of the Internet have helped to topple. In order for information to thrive and spread, as it needs to do in any free society, the risk of copyright infringement needs to be in place – links containing infringing material provided by journalists to spread information to people is just one example. The shoot first, ask questions later approach of SOPA and PIPA are unacceptable in a free society. The potential for abuse on the part of private entities presented by those two bills is nothing short of odious. The tragic part is that this censorship would be forced to come from within – sites would need to police themselves on a constant basis for fear of legal reprisals.
There are more reasons to oppose these bills written by far more knowledgeable people related to the security of the Internet, as well. Just know that right now the power of the Internet is squarely in your hands, like in no other place in the world. Help make sure it stays there.
If you have the time, please read the two bills in their entirety (SOPA and PIPA) for yourself and let your Congressman or Congresswoman know what you think about these two pieces of legislation. In the past few weeks, Congress has made steps to scale back both bills, but real danger to the quality of the Internet is still present.