Many Internet users saw the recent change to Google’s homepage: a large black bar stretching across the logo. What some users don’t know, however, is that Google, along with thousands of other Internet sites, is putting forth similar statements against the proposed bill in Congress known as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). SOPA was proposed by U.S. Representative Lamar S. Smith, who sought to crack down on various Internet sites that post video and audio files in violation of copyright infringement laws. According to the Colbert Report, Smith’s bill was strongly supported by many of the large-scale media companies, including Time Warner, Comcast, CBS, Viacom, and Sony Pictures, and according to Cnet news, has even gained approval from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Understandably, this support came with good reasoning. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote in a letter to the editor of The New York Times that “Rogue websites that steal America’s innovative and creative products attract more than 53 billion visits a year and threaten more than 19 million American jobs.” SOPA would increase the ability of the courts and law enforcement to combat that copyright infringement on the web, mainly by shutting down or denying access to websites that, as the bill states, “offer services in a manner that enables or facilitates [the violation of ] ... any of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner ...”
Despite its good intentions, SOPA’s technicalities have invoked a massive resistance to the bill by companies such as AOL, eBay, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Firefox, LinkedIn and Zynga, all of whom have expressed their opposition to the bill’s unprecedented power delegation. Some organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, have voiced their opposition, while human organizations like the Center for Media Justice have publicized their concerns about the bill’s violation of civil rights.
The main problem that most Internet companies have with the bill is that its minor technicalities pro- vide it with the power to destroy websites that are not dedicated to Internet piracy. For instance, if a user of Facebook, YouTube or Twitter were to post material that had not been licensed to them under copyright law (let’s say a video of a popular song for example), not only the user, but the entire website would be in jeopardy. In fact, if the website did not remove the material within five days, it could be shut down completely. Furthermore, the user who downloaded the material could face up to five years in jail.
There are also shady areas of the bill that deal with foreign websites. SOPA would essentially grant the U.S. government the power to block access to foreign websites that meet any of the broad criteria of copyright infringement. This is where many of the civil rights groups draw the line.
What is essentially the uncontested censoring of outside material is borderline propaganda by omission, meaning that SOPA infringes on the freedom of speech by means of the Internet. The idea that the government could use the pretense of copyright infringement as a means of censoring thousands of websites is a massive concern to many civil rights advocates, and the bill would provide the means to do just that.
Recent efforts to counter the enactment of the bill even have some politicians second-guessing themselves. Marco Rubio, a co-founder of SOPA’s partner bill, the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), recently dropped his support of the act with a fittingly ironic Facebook post, which said, “We’ve heard legitimate concerns about the impact the bill could have on access to the Internet and about a potentially unreasonable expansion of the federal government’s power to impact the Internet,” and that “Congress should listen and avoid rushing through a bill that could have many unintended consequences.”
As of right now the bill is currently being post-poned, in an effort to undoubtedly wait out the negative publicity surrounding it. As far as the average Internet user is concerned, however, the war against government control of the web is far from over, as millions have begun signing petitions to thwart SOPA’s passage, an action most of us should seriously consider.
Story by Ryan Stevens Columnist
Stevens is a senior majoring in English and French. Comments can be sent to email@example.com.
Graphic artist: Samantha Smith