Until recently, you probably thought the words SOPA and PIPA were just the hypothetical names of Peter Pan’s children, but after the web’s mini revolution back in January you now know them as the “internet kill switch” bills. They have received this reputation because they directly threaten the web’s freedom of speech and due process laws all in the name of copyright protection. You may think that the web community defeated these bills by the large online protests, by President Obama’s comments and by media coverage stating that Congress has shelved them. Unfortunately, the bills have not been officially defeated and, furthermore, similar bills are being written and introduced to the House of Representatives.
Why Do We Need Regulation?
Why do we need laws governing the Internet and it’s free, open community? We don’t! Many of the supporters of these bills are large corporations (motion film and music industries, etc.) that have their profits deeply rooted in intellectual property. The Internet threatens these property rights because of the ease with which digital files can be uploaded and distributed in large scale networks thereby cutting into profits of those with rights to such media. SOPA and PIPA would allow the U.S. Government and its underlying bodies (Homeland Security, FBI, CIA, etc.) to closely regulate the Internet for pirated content. Seems harmless right? Take another look. These bills give the government the authority to play judge, jury and executioner, bypassing due process with regard to regulating piracy behaviors. For example, if the FBI finds an image on your website that they believe is copyrighted, they have the authority to completely shut down your site without warning, without trial, without debate.
Still think that this would never happen to you? Remember when Homeland Security shut down 84,000 websites by mistake in the name of a child pornography sting? The owners of these sites were branded with a Scarlet Letter and they were innocent! Imagine the detriment to your reputation as a business owner or blogger when your customers see the Homeland Security Investigation page painted over your site. This is exactly why we need to keep the web free and due process in order; to defend the innocent and accurately prosecute the guilty.
Losing Our Rights
The content of these bills go further than intellectual property protection. Parts of these bills also give authority to shut down whole sections of the net to prevent cyber attacks. Right now you may be saying to yourself, “Well, that is reasonable”, but there are already laws in place to investigate, collect evidence and arrest the suspects! The United States of America has always been thought of as a great country because of its respect for individual liberty and the freedoms innately given at birth. Among these is the right to a fair and just trial of your peers to determine your guilt if charged with a crime. These bills strip those rights away assuming you are guilty until you can prove your innocence which may not be possible since due process would no longer exist.
So, why does the government want to extend its power? Silly question! When, in recent history, has the government not sought to grow and extend its regulations? Not surprisingly, such overregulation stifles freedom of speech, creativity, and job creation. In my opinion, the almighty dollar is a driving force behind SOPA and PIPA. Like I mentioned earlier, the film and music industries are just two of the giants lobbying to pass these bills. Lobbying is when a company sends persuasive suits to convince congress and senators to write, edit or pass legislation, which benefits the lobbying company. It doesn’t take a geek to use the old “follow the money” trick to better understand why such bills are written and have influential supporters. To exemplify this point, let’s look at former Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd who retired from senate in 2010, after thirty years of service and time spent making connections. The retired senator is now the top lobbyist for the Motion Picture Association of America and strongly advocates for SOPA. He makes it so easy to connect the dots!
The Final Frontier
Virtually every industry in the United States is now heavily regulated, all except for the Internet. We can now think of the Internet as the final frontier. A Wild West style, free-zone where anyone can publish a thought, propose an idea or create a start-up company. A change to this Internet freedom will affect almost everyone in this digital age therefore it is our responsibility to influence the fate of the web. We must decide if the net will remain a place of creativity or if it will be controlled and regulated by the whims of a few bureaucrats. Without a free Internet, companies like Facebook and Twitter could not exist, those jobs would not have been created, and our social networks would not have expanded, revolutionizing our digital lives. In the eyes of a digital revolution child, regulating a free web would end a world where anything is possible; it would mean a world where my dreams cease to develop the next great idea.
We Are Responsible
Put down that iPad, iPhone, Blackberry or any other distraction that we have had shoved in our faces and take a moment to educate yourself, arm-up with the facts and face the reality. It is our fault this has happened simply because we stopped paying attention to what our government was doing and they took advantage of us, trampling upon our rights. Once packed with knowledge, pick back up that mobile device, get active and begin the fight! Contact your congressperson and senators. Write them an email, call them and show up at their office. Voice your concern! You elected them and they are obligated to represent their constituents. If the time comes to vote and your politicians support the bill, make a pact to vote them out in the next election. Furthermore, share your concerns with your family and friends. Go online and sign petitions. Place banners on your websites promoting web freedom. If enough concerned voices bring the dangers of SOPA and PIPA to the forefront we may succeed in killing these bills for good.
Continue to Stay Alert
As mentioned above, it is important to stay alert when opposing legislation that has big money interests backing it because the law usually gets pushed through one avenue or another. In recent days, it has been known that instead of listening to the people of the web, the government has chosen to turn their heads and take a different route in trying to get the SOPA-style legislation passed and gain the power to regulate the internet. In its latest actions, the United States is in talks with other countries to enter into treaties (ACTA & TPP) that would give them the powers they covet.
In recent days, the web community has fired up the protest engine again. Check out the latest web protest and read about the bills discussed in this article with the links below: