Let's Stop the SOPA Internet Censorship Bill

Written by  Ann Shibler Wednesday, 23 November 2011 00:00

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) would impose government censorship on the Internet.

There certainly hasn’t been any lack of attempts by the U.S. government — elected Representatives and Senators, and White House — to try to regulate/control the Internet in this session of Congress. It seems a new cybersecurity bill pops up at least once a week. The latest one catching all the attention is the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), H.R. 3261. SOPA is a beefed-up version of the failed Protect IP Act.

Whereas SOPA is heavily supported by Hollywood producers, the recording industry, and large media companies and their lobbyists as a way to protect their copyrighted material, SOPA's opponents include major Internet giants like Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and Twitter, as well as civil liberties groups, Tea Party groups, and investors.

Under the proposal any website, including search engines like Google, could be forced to delist whole domains on the basis of a copyright claim by a content provider. Internet Providers would be forced into monitoring websites that contain user-generated content because embedding and posting and sharing videos, etc., could be a violation of SOPA. This would be a severe limiting of the currently used and understood Fair Use doctrine. Unauthorized streaming would become a felony. And SOPA could eliminate the alternative media so prevalent on the Internet for simply unknowingly embedding unauthorized videos or links; perhaps even quoting from copyrighted material would be enough to “delist” the domain name of the website.

David Ulevich, an expert in Internet security calls the legislation “dangerous” for three reasons: 1) “there is no way to censor only illegal content without harming legitimate uses on sites as well,” 2) it will create a firewall to “censor websites similar to those countries we criticize for the same behavior,” and 3) it will "burden companies with an onerous level of liability for all user-generated content.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said this about the bill: "It could set a precedent for further control and censorship of the Internet by foreign governments, and risk the fragmentation of the global domain name system.” Reporters Without Borders said the bill is “clearly hostile to freedom of expression.” While a Harvard Business Review blogger stated the bill would “give America its very own version of the Great Firewall of China,” because of the imposition of content filtering and blocking without any independent judicial control. That’s right.  According to a C-Net analysis of the bill, SOPA “would let content owners bypass cops, courts, and any semblance of due process, and ‘disappear’ entire Web domains like some kind of privatized secret police force.”

The bill, so broadly written, is a danger to Internet freedom, has devastating penalties that are rather disconnected from alleged violations of the bill, could certainly kill any new e-commerce or normal Internet usage, issues rather vague requirements to Internet Service Providers, and has the potential for International consequences that could result in court challenges by foreign countries, all because the measure is so completely out of sync with the current Internet structure and how it operates.

The Internet has become an incredible force that promotes free speech and alternative views and information. Also, according to a "Dear Colleague" letter written by Representatives Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) on November 8, 2011: "Online innovation and commerce were responsible for 15 percent of U.S. GDP growth from 2004 to 2009, according to the McKinsey Global Institute." However, after reviewing SOPA, many venture capitalists say there is no way they would invest money in the Internet under the risky conditions SOPA would impose.

Speak out about Internet censorship by contacting your Representative and Senators immediately, as this bill is sure to see more action before the end of the year. It is a government-interference Internet bill of great magnitude that would in fact destroy the Internet as we now know it, creating a new bureaucracy with the U.S. Government as the Internet police.

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