George Orwell’s prediction of “Big Brother” may become a reality after all with the emergence of a handful of new pieces of legislation making their way through Congress.
The recent Stop Online Piracy Act in the House was — at least until the vote on it was postponed by scared-straight legislators — meant to block websites from spreading copyrighted material, such as music, movies, television shows and photos.
The bill is well-intentioned, but flawed in its execution. We all know downloading movies and music from the Internet is against the law, yet many people continue to do it anyway, for various reasons.
Taking action against pirating sites is the intent of SOPA, but the bill is going about it in the wrong manner. SOPA, in its current state, would block any website that contains copyrighted material, period. This includes sites like Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr, Twitter and Wikipedia. Because these websites host copyrighted material, even though it is user-submitted, they would be in danger of being shut down.
The problem with SOPA is that it is simply too broad.
Imagine the Internet as a vast ocean with pirates of the non-Internet variety on it. Instead of taking out these pirate ships individually, SOPA is essentially dropping a nuclear bomb on them, taking out everything else in its wake.
Under SOPA, advertisers would not be allowed to associate with these “rogue” websites. Internet Service Providers would be forced to block these sites from their customers, and sites like PayPal would be barred from conducting business with them. Even search engines like Google would be banned from linking to infringing websites. This is web censorship at its worst.
The worst part is that SOPA would not even accomplish what it intends to do, while making a mess of everything else. Torrenting sites like The Pirate Bay have expressed that they’re not even worried about the bill. Since it’s based overseas, it has evaded shutdown since its inception and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing.
SOPA has generated much opposition from the general community as well as from many big Internet players.
On Jan. 18, the Internet took up arms and protested the bill. Google put a large black censor bar over its logo.Some high-profile sites, like Wikipedia and Reddit, even chose to shut down their websites for the entire day with a blackout protest. Dozens of other popular websites have expressed opposition as well.
It appears to have worked. The Obama administration announced that it “will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.” Many representatives in the House have changed their position due to such a large negative public response to the bill.
For now, it appears that SOPA has been shelved. However, there are similar bills headed into Congress that pose similar, if not worse threats. The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) and Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act may contain language reminiscent of SOPA, but surreptitiously earmarked in more publicly palatable bills. The fight for Internet freedom is far from over.
Dalton Runberg is the webmaster of The Collegian.