For fans of Google, Wikipedia, Reddit and Tumblr, the reasoning behind the “blackout” day on Jan. 18 is important because it brings attention to the public’s right to use the Internet uncensored. The “Stop Online Piracy Act” and “Protect IP Act” bills caused outraged citizens to immediately start protesting online.
Internet censorship needs to be cause for concern for anyone who believes in freedom of speech, as well as the right to information.
While the writers of these bills rail against the use of person-to-person file sharing and illegal downloading of movies, music and other data, it’s currently impossible to stop Internet users from accessing websites like The Pirate Bay or MegaUpload. Our freedom to access any running website makes it more difficult for the American government to limit copyright infringement.
The reason these websites are seen as trouble by media companies is because they’re maintained overseas, and therefore cannot be sued or otherwise punished for sharing illegally obtained files. For example, The Pirate Bay is a Swedish website that isn’t subject to the same laws as in the U.S.
Copyright infringement is the main cause noted behind these bills, but that’s not why there is such an outcry against the potential new legislation. The main problem, however, is the wording of the bills – for example, SOPA defines foreign infringing sites as any site that facilitates copyright infringement, according to PC World’s website.
Media companies cannot sue people overseas because they don’t have the same government, and therefore, different legislation. With the SOPA and PIPA bills however, the U.S. government can attempt to change the current situation and ban the access of websites like these.
University students, including those attending Eastern Michigan University, are noticing the detriments that would result from such legislation. “SOPA is ridiculous because it takes away our Constitutional right to freedom of speech,” said sophomore Morgan Winskas.
With ambiguous wording and too much power given to rights holders, websites including YouTube and Google can be shut down if they don’t remove links and cut off funding to infringing sites.
By simply listing The Pirate Bay under the search term “torrent” for example, Google can be taken offline.
Discussion of SOPA and PIPA has resulted in comparisons between the American government and that of more “restrictive” nations, including China and North Korea. Such censorship normally results from governments that have more control over the daily activities of their citizens.
SOPA sponsor and Republic Congressman of Texas Lamar Smith, who also serves as Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, has stated that he plans to revise the bill in order to ensure that it passes. Several organizations including Center for Democracy and Electronic Frontier Foundation are also supporting this legislation.
Thankfully, these bills have been withdrawn from Congress after prevalent amounts of protestors writing to their representatives in opposition.
According to PC World, 4.5 million people signed an anti- SOPA and PIPA bill that Google recommended.
The question remains if these bills will be restructured and taken more seriously when debated again in Congress. If bills like these are passed, will the American public have more legislation that allows censorship or restriction of freedom of speech?
Now, more than ever, it’s important the constituents remember their rights and become familiar with current legislation as well as new laws that are being discussed. If uninformed about these issues, the age of total government control can become likely.
While total government control is unlikely, it’s imperative we all learn to speak to our representatives and talk about our preferences and rights. The Senate vote for PIPA is scheduled for Jan. 24.