Two very significant government attempts to gain control of the Internet have run into controversy. Congress has been considering the perversely named Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its sister Protect IP Act (PIPA). After a great deal of initial support, both are now thankfully coming under fire from some former corporate boosters.
For example, former corporate supporter and the Internet’s largest domain registrar GoDaddy.com recently caved into boycott pressure against this scheme to control the internet and alerted Congress it was dropping its support of SOPA.
These laws, if enacted, will give Uncle Sam the technical and legal ability to censor and shut down websites in the name of enforcing copyright infringement on behalf of politically connected corporations.
The Chinese Connection,
a Former U.S. Senator, and Crony Capitalism…
SOPA and PIPA appear to be modeled after China’s infamous internet censorship procedures! Suspiciously, support for these two laws is spearheaded largely by the Hollywood lobby and trial lawyers, traditional special interest groups for the Democrats.
The Weekly Standard recounted an interview Variety conducted with former Senator Chris Dodd, now the head of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Dodd, a major former insider, seemed to be speaking for the U.S. political class when he said, “When the Chinese told Google that they had to block sites or they couldn’t do [business] in their country, they managed to figure out how to block sites.” Put another way, crony capitalist Dodd appears to want the same power to censor the Internet as the Chinese government has.
What Exactly Are SOPA and PIPA?
Many Republican supporters of SOPA and PIPA seem to be comforted by many big corporations’ (i.e. Disney, Fox, CBS, etc.) claims that those laws will protect them from copyright infringement.
Of course, copyrights are already strongly protected, and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is an existing law already in place – leading many to argue SOPA and PIPA are redundant and misguided.
Opponents to SOPA and PIPA such as high-tech firms (i.e. Google, Facebook, etc.), Internet engineers (many who helped “invent” the Internet and keep it functioning), legal experts, and those who depend on the Internet for their livelihood or simply to communicate and exercise free-speech argue these are poorly written pieces of legislation and will fragment the Internet, ruin its effectiveness, benefit a few entertainment industry cronies, and give the U.S. government the Internet kill switch it’s been lusting after for years.
How Does All the Beltway Jockeying over the Internet Affect You?
Americans for Limited Government President Bill Wilson writes in The Hill, “What began as an attempt to restrain foreign piracy on the Internet has morphed into a domestic ‘kill switch’ on First Amendment freedom in the fastest-growing corner of the marketplace of ideas… Proposed federal legislation purporting to protect online intellectual property would also impose sweeping new government mandates on internet service providers – a positively Orwellian power grab that would permit the U.S. Justice Department to shut down any internet site it doesn’t like (and cut off its sources of income) on nothing more than a whim…”
Senior policy council at the Center on Democracy and Technology David Sohn says, “Any website that features user-generated content or that enables cloud-based data storage could end up in its crosshairs.” This means companies like Facebook, Apple, YouTube, Twitter, Blogs, forums, independent websites, and more.
If you’ve grown accustomed to using the Internet to get news and information from outside the mainstream press, these proposed laws could effectively shut down all these sources of alternative ideas and information on a whim.
Overreach Has Already Happened
and Will Accelerate If These Bills Pass…
Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe says, “The notice-and-termination procedure of Section 103(a) runs afoul of the ‘prior restraint’ doctrine, because it delegates to a private party the power to suppress speech without prior notice and a judicial hearing. This provision of the bill would give complaining parties the power to stop online advertisers and credit card processors from doing business with a website, merely by filing a unilateral notice accusing the site of being ‘dedicated to theft of U.S. property’ – even if no court has actually found any infringement. The immunity provisions in the bill create an overwhelming incentive for advertisers and payment processors to comply with such a request immediately upon receipt.”
It looks like it’s already happening. TechDirt.com followed a story for a year starting back around Thanksgiving weekend 2010. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Justice completely shut down, seized, and censored nearly a half dozen web based businesses by “mistake!”
This month, Congress may decide the fate of the misguided SOPA and PIPA legislation. No matter what happens, Independent Living is here to help you stay vigilant over your rights and give you the tools and knowledge needed to live a successful, healthy, and self-reliant life.