Today is the ad hoc American Censorship Day. Why? A committee in the House of Representatives has stacked their deck of experts 5 to 1 in favor of the SOPA, Stop Online Piracy Act. Even though this law could radically change the way the Internet works in the US (so that it can be restricted in the same way that it is restricted in China, Iran, and Syria), many congressional members support this law and they do not want public dissenting voices to be heard during committee. Techdirt has coverage of the hearing today here.
SOPA and Protect-IP are intended to put the thumbscrews on online discussion, fair use, and entrepreneurship. This infographic explains the potential effects of the bill if made law.
This is another example of our elected officials catering to outmoded big business. Big media wants to consolidate its control over the Internet, because those companies are unwilling to adjust their business models to the here-and-now. Instead, they want to flex their money-muscle and reconfigure the Internet so that they remain on top. I suppose this is the logic of capital. Increased regulation helps diversify the market, which leads to benefits for consumers. Conglomerates and virtual monopolies do not want this. Instead, they want to solidify their own position by hijacking the democratic process and putting laws in place that not only gives them added control over the primary medium of discourse but also further criminalizes previously non-criminal acts.
Go to the American Censorship Day website here, and send an email (or even better–call them!) letting your representatives know that you are against SOPA/Protect-IP.
It has been covered in many places, but I would recommend that you steer your browser to Ars Technica to read about the new PROTECT-IP bill: Revised Net censorship bill requires search engines to block sites, too. It is a new attempt by the culture industry’s elite (i.e., big money) to lower their overhead incurred by suing copyright offenders. It is also a salve to their wounded pride when they have repeatedly failed to effectively use existing law to censor the Internet and enforce media consumption of their wares.
PROTECT-IP is a broadly based law that will make US business interests liable for non-compliance with the censorship of online sites deemed to be infringers. This would mean credit card processsors would not be allowed to handle their transactions and online advertisers would be prohibited from advertising for or on those sites.
Perhaps more significantly, PROTECT-IP would effectively make Google an online censor, because the law would prohibit search engines from providing links to infringing sites. There would also be more troublesome interventions of the law that would block DNS entries for infringing sites. My trouble with this is what constitutes infringing? Even though this is narrowly defined in the proposed law, I know from our nation’s ongoing experiment with DMCA, these qualifications could be perverted to include sites that are targeted for other reasons (squashing discourse, preventing negative views, etc.).
I understand that copyright and trademark holders deserve their due. However, I strongly disagree with having a law like this one that circumvents the full application of law and enforcement via the courts. Let’s be clear about something regarding this law: Big media and Big trademark holders want this, because they believe that it will increase their profits in two ways: 1) it will force people to buy their official products (this is a contentiously debated argument that is dependent on more variables that the prevention of copyright violations), and 2) it lowers their cost of enforcement via the courts by placing them within the framework of enforcement and their actions can impel other businesses to act virtually on their behalf. This law is purposefully designed to empower big business at the cost of other big businesses and more importantly, the rights of individual citizens. We have recently seen how the DMCA can be used to silence discourse online (read here), so I can only imagine how this law might be perverted beyond its spirit of protecting business interests.
TechDirt also has a good summary of the law here.
Get involved by letting your congressional leaders that this isn’t good law, and support organizations that try to preserve individuals’ rights online such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Public Knowledge.