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SOPA-PIPA threat to internet free speech

Chris Bruno

January 26, 2012

Two bills going through the American congress have provoked the largest online protest in history. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), commonly referred to as “the internet censorship bills”, have garnered criticism from thousands of tech companies, professionals, and human rights organizations.

A day of action was organized on January 18 for the internet to “go on strike”. Wikipedia blocked the English language portion of their site for a full 24 hours, and over 50,000 websites expressed their opposition to the bills, including Google, Twitter, and Facebook.

Lawmakers were cyberbombed with petitions and angry emails. Thousands also protested outside their senators offices in New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington DC.

The contents of both the bills are very similar, and have the objective of restricting access to foreign web sites that are believed to be infringing upon copyright laws. If enacted into law, the Attorney General would be given the ability to force the removal of all sites that make copywrited content available or that link to such websites. Since these orders can be made without due process and without probable cause, it is ripe for abuse.

Websites that rely on user-submitted content, like Youtube, Tumblr, or Reddit would be unable to continuously remove links to banned web sites and would have to resort to overzealous moderating and censoring.

Unlike other attempts to censor parts of the internet–like the Great Firewall of China–under SOPA and PIPA websites would be censored worldwide. The point of these bills is not to block Americans from interacting with sites that host illegal or copyrighted information, but rather to make it impossible to access such sites by compelling American-owned websites to remove any references to them; that’s including search engines like Google or Bing.

The sponsors and supporters of SOPA and PIPA include both Republicans and Democrats. Media corporations and right wing organizations have heavily lobbied both laws. Notable supporters include the Chamber of Commerce, Disney, Comcast, the Recording Industry Association of America, News Corporation, and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which have all spent millions of dollars each in lobbying for the bill.

On January 20th, PIPA was tabled indefinitely by the Senate and at least 13 pro-PIPA senators immediately reversed their position. Although anti-SOPA/PIPA activists are declaring victory, both bills still have enough support to remain alive. The war to control the internet is not over.

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