An Internet Free From Censorship (SOPA)

 Envision a country where the powers that be can take down a website without the least bit provocation, where elected officials raise fears of “overseas pirates” to guard the interest of domestic businesses.  A country that companies like Google must give in to the demands of government censors or risk being shut down.  This is not China, North Korea or Iran being discussed, instead it is the United States of America.  If the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that was introduced in the House of Representative on October 26th 2011 becomes law these are exactly the type of situations that could occur.  The internet must remain free from censorship and SOPA must not become a law of this free country.

            SOPA would seek to protect the music and movie industries from online piracy, especially from foreign websites.  Current copyright law enforcement allows US officials to shutdown infringing sites within the United States; they are generally unable to shutdown foreign sites. What the law proposes is that the Department of Justice would seek court orders preventing online ad and payment processors for doing business with foreign websites that are under the suspicion of permitting or assisting copyright infringement. The court order could also prevent search engines from linking to suspected infringing sites and order domain name registrars to remove the site and Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) to block subscriber’s right of entry to the website charged with infringing. This could lead to websites being taken off the internet all together and the government should not have the power to do that.

The bill is too sweeping, the big names in showbiz could make any site seem like it were encouraging or capable of copyright infringement.  It could basically shutdown the internet.  A picture of Charlie Brown and his tiny tree placed on a Facebook wall and Facebook could be blocked because ABC lays claim to ownership of Charlie Brown.  It could also turn everyone into hackers.  The bill is meant to counter piracy, but it will not counter it all.  While it might be able to block websites it will not be able to remove the IP address (the numbers associated with a particular website.)  So instead of remembering a websites name, the numeric URL would have to be used to gain access to these sites, much like hackers do.  The internet would become less fun.  Any sites that thought there might be a copyright infringement would just pull the content rather than risk being blocked by the government.  Innovators would be fearful of inadvertently disobeying this law, so would less likely to create the next best thing.  The final thing it does, it puts more power in the hands of those already with the most power.  Those with the copyrights could charge whatever they wanted, there would be little competition.

This law would amount to censorship of the internet and other countries in the global community have spoken out against it.  The European Parliament has adopted a resolution against SOPA.  The resolution stresses the importance of “the need to protect the integrity of the global internet and freedom of communication by refraining from unilateral measures to revoke IP addresses or domain names”. Put in basic terms, the measure in SOPA are too far-reaching, to open to interpretation and the integrity and freedom of the internet will be adversely affected.

This new legislation, if passed, could strike at the heart of the way the internet has been organized.  Sharing, frankness and involvement are at the core of what the internet stands for.  An open internet is preferred over one walled off by government censors.  This legislation, if passed, would lead to a decline in internet innovation.  Many of the benefits and gains mankind has made because of the internet over the past five to ten years could be wiped out with the passage of this bill.

The Stop Online Piracy Act seeks to protect the interest of the movie and music industries by creating a law that allows the Unites States government to aggressively defend their copyright laws.  The law as currently written is far too all-encompassing and the financial gains to these industries would not be worth the amount of potential damage done by censoring the internet.  It will stifle advancement on the internet and turn regular people into internet hackers.  SOPA must not be allowed to pass, if we allow the internet to be censored what will be next?

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