If you’ve been online today, you have no doubt come to discover that one of your favorite sites has gone offline – blacked out in protest of two controversial pieces of legislation known as SOPA and PIPA that are currently working their way through the United States Congress and Senate. SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, and PIPA, the Protect-IP Act, were proposed as a measure to thwart the growing online piracy problem. But make no mistake: while combatting piracy is a good thing, SOPA and PIPA are not. They are fundamentally flawed.
The premise is this: the American entertainment industry wants the ability to shut down foreign sites dedicated to piracy, those that supply illegal downloads of movies, TV shows, music, and the like. Sounds alright so far: piracy is illegal, and it should be stopped. Now here’s where the controversy comes in. To go about this, the United States Government will have to take measures within its own borders, as they can not act outside of their jurisdiction. To begin, PIPA would give the U.S. Government the ability to demand that ISP’s block infringing domain names (DNS blocking), so that American citizens would be unable to access sites promoting piracy, or those so much as accused of promoting piracy. Secondly, the government would take action against American-based sites that “promote” piracy in the form of links or other ties to these infringing sites. This is censorship. Blocking sites that the government and the media companies don’t like. It starts with piracy, but censorship is a slippery slope, and the language used in these pieces of legislation is vague, almost as if it were created to be abused. In addition, the government would be able to force U.S. based advertisers and payment providers to cancel the accounts of these foreign piracy websites.
To those of us who live outside of the United States, SOPA and PIPA may not seem like a threat. But what we need to realize is that SOPA and PIPA will affect us, and while this starts in the United States, it will spread.
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PIPA and SOPA will not stop piracy. There are ways around DNS blocking, and piracy will persist. In truth, the entertainment companies already have the power to fight piracy. They can get a video taken off of YouTube. They can sue companies using their intellectual property without permission. SOPA and PIPA were created to give the media companies the ability to target and take-down previously untouchable foreign piracy sites by blocking their domain and cutting off their revenue. But it includes loopholes that, when abused (consciously or not), would allow the government to effectively censor the internet. This effect would be far-reaching, and would have global ramifications.
Say goodbye to your favourite sites.
To an uninformed judge, social networks like YouTube, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and SoundCloud might seem like they support piracy due to the amount of copyrighted content that appears on their respective websites. And under SOPA, a website is responsible for any content its users upload, and the government could block any site that contains even one infringing link. Sites such as these would constantly have to worry about the content their users are uploading, posting, and sharing. This is a huge legal burden to carry, and social networks and other similar online sharing services would find it impossible to exist with laws like SOPA and PIPA in place. Those of us outside the U.S. would have to say goodbye to our favorite sites.
Attacking foreign competition.
SOPA and PIPA were designed to allow American media companies to attack foreign websites that “infringe copyright”. However, it is no stretch to imagine that American media companies will target international competition, abuse the limits of SOPA and PIPA by claiming copyright infringement, and get these sites blocked from the internet. With no American business coming in, and payments from America blocked, these foreign companies will suffer, having never violated any domestic or international law.
Monkey see, monkey do.
Don’t think this will stop in America; there are equally large and powerful entertainment companies around the globe. If the United States can pass internet censorship laws like SOPA and PIPA, intellectual property protection will become a major part of U.S. foreign policy, and you better believe other countries will follow suit. The internet will look different in every country, and free expression online will cease to exist. Think about how much closer together the world is now that we can all communicate online? Now imagine if that went away? There are government’s out there that will abuse this power far worse than the United States would.
In short, SOPA and PIPA will do a lot of damage to the internet, both in the United States and abroad. We need to stop this, and we can make a difference. Do your part and fight for a free and equal internet!