ALL OVER REDDIT, Twitter, and various blogs, the armies are gearing up to defend themselves against an encroaching enemy: the government.
And their greatest weapon is, ultimately, themselves. As a bill called the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, gets ready to go to Congress, the Internet world has voiced anxiety that the legislation will restrict Internet freedom. In particular, there is concern that it will severely limit usage of sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter (now, that got your attention, didn’t it!).
In a nutshell, SOP would expand the ability of U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to combat online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. The bill was introduced in the House in October by Republican Representative Lamar Smith, from Texas. If passed, it would expand the ability of U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to combat online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods, by allowing the U.S. Department of Justice and copyright holders to seek court orders requiring online advertising networks, payment processors and related entities to cease payments to websites and web-based services accused of copyright infringement.
So far, Reddit reports that over 900,000 people have signed an online petition asking Congress not to pass the SOPA bill. Both MoveOn and Change.org have lent their support to the petition, showcasing it on their websites. Anti-SOPA people call it the “Internet blacklist bill,” and say that it will allow the music and television industries to shut down the aforementioned sites. It would also make it a crime to stream or display works protected by copyright without permission.
The best part about the anti-SOPA petition is that that the signatures will serve as a filibuster, read out name-by-name by Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore), when the bill is presented for the Senate vote this week. This may be the first case where Internet activism is being taken up so directly in a Congressional vote. Wyden’s argument is that the bill would actually make the Internet less secure, because government intervention disrupts, for example, the Domain Name System, and has an overall “effect on the net’s structure.” If the bill passes, he says, we may be headed toward a future where only people who can afford a website will be able to hire a lawyer.
Wyden is also speaking out against a similar act that restricts Internet usage, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), which would allow the U.S. Department of Justice to seek court orders that will require Internet service providers to shut down websites accused of copyright infringement. Well, there goes my personal blog.
With SOPA and PIPA in place, the Internet would quickly cease to be such a wealth of ideas and information. It would lose its democratic nature. Act quickly to sign the petition and let the Senate know that the Web is important to our expression of free speech.
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Rachel Signer is a Brooklyn, NY-based freelance journalist, focused on writing about social change and innovative solutions to systemic problems. Prior to becoming a journalist, she earned a master's in sociocultural anthropology at The New School and has done ethnographic research in Latin America and Africa. Her website is rachelsigner.com.
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