Justin Bieber is pissed off and you should be, too.
What's made Bieber so angry? A bill in Congress that could rip apart the open fabric of the internet and let corporations censor free speech.
The "Stop Online Piracy Act," or SOPA, gives private entities the power to blacklist websites at will. And it violates the due process rights of the thousands of users who could see their sites disappear from the Internet for doing something as innocent as posting a video of them singing along to their favorite song.
Learning from China?
These are the sort of heavy-handed Web control you'd expect to see in China, not in the United States.
SOPA (HR 3261) not only lets companies silence websites, it also allows for banks to freeze financial deposits to the accounts of website owners, potentially forcing falsely accused Internet enterprises out of business.
The bill was intended to discourage illegal copyright violations, but it addresses this problem by giving corporations way too much authority over the way the Internet works. It deputizes the private sector with the power to disconnect the URLs of website that they believe to be behaving improperly.
It gives private entities unprecedented power to rewrite the Internet's domain name system (DNS), which translates your website request into an IP address in order to connect you to the correct location. After receiving a complaint from a company like Viacom or Sony Music, the government would force Internet providers and search engines to redirect users' attempts to reach the website that they chose.
The idea that SOPA would protect against online piracy and other web crimes is a Hollywood pipe dream. As a technical solution, DNS re-directing is virtually useless in stopping sophisticated online piracy, but it will have a strong deterrent effect on casual producers and consumers of Internet content.
As such the consequences for free speech are grave. Imagine if your kid sister creates a "fansite" featuring videos of her singing Taylor Swift songs into a hair brush. Not only does the bill give Swift's record label the authority to "disappear" your sister's site from the Web, it also could land her in jail facing severe penalties and a long prison term.
Bieber: Throw Congress in Cuffs
In a radio interview last week Bieber called SOPA "ridiculous." He added that "people need to have the freedom... to sing songs," and that any member of Congress who supports this bill "needs to be locked up -- put away in cuffs."
At the very least Congress should wise up and kill this bill.
A Senate version of SOPA, called the Protect IP Act, passed committee approval in the spring following a massive push by brazen film and music industry lobbyists. These lobbyists are back, but now Silicon Valley companies and venture capitalists have joined forces with civil liberties groups, independent musicians and free speech advocates to stop the bill.
We can't let corporations become the Internet's judge, jury and executioner. If SOPA is allowed to stand, we could see the private sector's police powers expand to a point that undermines the fundamental openness of the Internet. And that's bad news for Justin Bieber, your kid sister, and the rest of us.