With SOPA [Stop Online Piracy Act] (H.R.3261) and the PROTECT IP Act [Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011] (S.968), free and open communication via the Internet may be severely severed. The power to censor could be in the hands of the entertainment industry and from within our government if this legislation eventually passes. The proposed legislation gives the government the power to shut down unauthorized Web sites used for piracy even though most of these Web sites are outside U.S. jurisdiction. Going further, Web sites like Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook and any others with user-generated and shared content could be flagged and caught in this bill. This should be important to everyone especially if you value your intellectual freedom.
On January 18, 2012 Wikipedia and others will protest SOPA and the PROTECT IP Act by blacking out their Web sites. People visiting libraries that day will approach the reference desk asking why some of their favorite Web sites are gone and I think Librarians should be ready to provide unbiased information/commentary on this proposed legislation, so that our users can make wise decisions and realize that this is very important – not just for today, but well into o future.
Although piracy is clearly wrong, this proposed legislation will not stop people from doing it. Simply adding an IP address into a browser’s address field will allow pirates to still download materials illegally while legitimate links/commentary etc. may be considered copyright infringement and subsequently blocked while our freedom of expression dissolves into the ether!
Technically, it is illegal to share Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in any format and if SOPA, for example, passed then links to this amazing speech would be removed automatically. No one would be able to experience the speech unless they purchased it. EMI on behalf of The King Center has enforced their copyright and ordered its removal from YouTube. Their Web site says that they will sell you or your school a copy for $10 or you can buy the DVD at Amazon.com. Although there are current ways for corporations to take infringed copyright content down (e.g., Digital Millenium Copyright Act, PRO-IP Act, Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), the passing of bills like SOPA and PROTECT IP would undermine the basic structure of the Internet while it’s open/sharing/collaborative aspect would diminish and this is very unfortunate.
The White House recently said that it wouldn’t support any bill that would “inhibit innovation” and they vowed to protect “the openness of the Internet” and this is fantastic news, but everyone (not just librarians or technologists etc.) should be aware of this threatening legislation and stand up and be heard. The Electronic Frontier Foundation makes it easy to send a “Please oppose the Internet Blacklist Legislation (PROTECT IP and SOPA)” letter to your representatives. So, if you oppose this proposed legislation, then please let your voice be heard!
Any Google search (right now at least) for SOPA will provide well over 120,000,000 results, but here are a few worth checking out:
Senator Ron Wyden’s statement opposing SOPA
What do you need to know about SOPA PIPA? Begin here
List of SOPA Supporters
List of Those Expressing Concern With SOPA & PIPA
SOPA: The debate in plain English