The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House of Representatives and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate are well meaning, but if passed, will be destructive to internet freedoms we've all come to expect as well as forces that have helped innovation on the internet flourish. Both pieces of legislation greatly weaken the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which for over a decade has helped Internet companies grow and flourish.
The recording industry, movie studios and television studios are the driving forces behind these bills. We are all very aware of how the music industry 's slow and regressive response to digital music backfired while not helping recording artists or the music industry.
Instead of creating better ways to legally download music (as Apple did for them by creating iTunes), their solution was to sue music lovers. Imagine the repercussions of this industry, and the Hollywood studios that have not adapted to how digital innovations have affected their industry, dictating policies that regulate the Internet.
Some of the companies and organizations that have opposed these bills so far include American Express, AOL, Creative Commons, Demand Progress, Discover, eBay, Etsy, Facebook, Foursquare, Google, LinkedIn, MoveOn, Mozilla, OpenDNS, PayPal, Twitter, Visa, Wikimedia Foundation, Yahoo! and Zynga. They are joined by web founders, public interest groups, non-profits, advocacy organizations, thinktanks, industry associations, websites, online services, cybersecurity companies, engineers, international human rights advocates, entrepreneurs, founders, CEOs, executives, venture capitalists, academics, experts, educators, editorial boards and student newspapers.
Would you rather have these companies and Internet-related professionals determine what's best for the Internet and its users? We can probably agree that they are more aware of what's beneficial for the Internet than the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America.
Reddit has announced a blackout on January 18th to protest SOPA and Wikipedia is considering joining them. Thousands of people are changing their Twitter and Facebook avatars to include a Blackout SOPA badge across their face in protest.
SOPA and PIPA aim to help private corporations shut down unauthorized websites where people download music, movies, and TV shows. Most of these websites are outside of America, so these corporations are looking to combat them in a few ways. 1) Block access to infringing domain names. 2) Sue U.S. based search engines, blogs, websites, directories and forums to remove links to these sites. 3) Stop funding these websites by not allowing advertisers to support them.
The consequences that SOPA and PIPA supporters do not mention include: 1) This will not stop downloaders. History has proven this. 2) It will cripple startups by allowing corporations to sue any company they decide is not filtering to their subjective satisfaction. One of these lawsuits can easily bankrupt new websites and search engines that offer competitive alternatives to their corporate brethren. 3) The ambiguous language in PIPA and SOPA leaves plenty of room for misinterpretation that can make websites pioneering new avenues look like pirates. In the past, this could have affected sites like YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Facebook and hundreds of other social sites where people express themselves, organize protests, share news or make art.
The bottom line and main question to ask yourself is, "Do I trust the U.S. government to censor the Internet and protect free expression of its people? And if I do, do I trust other governments who will probably follow suit?" The next question to ask yourself is, "Is it worth the potential of creating a censored internet that is less innovative and stable in order to possibly help the RIAA and MPAA sell more music and movies?"
I strongly recommend contacting your Senators and Congressional Representatives or visiting American Censorship to make your voice heard on these critical bills that can negatively impact the Internet that you use every day. If online activists could make GoDaddy flip its support on SOPA and PIPA, then it can happen with Congress too.
Follow Brett Greene on Twitter: www.twitter.com/brettgreene