SOPA – The War of the Internet
As of December 2011, the US House of Representatives is currently considering the highly controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Introduced in October 2011 by Representative Lamar Smith, SOPA aims to greatly reduce the file sharing of music, films and books online that has plagued the internet for years. The fate of SOPA will be debated when Congress returns from its winter break. Should it pass, the bill would expand the Department of Justice’s power and copyright holders would be able to take firm action against websites that are suspected of hosting, serving or facilitating file sharing online. This ‘firm action’ will come in the form of barring advertisement and payments to the suspected website and blocking access to it via Internet service providers (something providers have been reluctant to do in the past). This could prove disastrous for user generated sites like YouTube, Flickr and Facebook where offences by the users could lead to the blocking of the sites despite no intentional law breaking.
Sound familiar? Some have compared SOPA to the ‘Great Firewall of China’, the infamous Chinese policy of censoring the Internet where sending an email can land you a jail sentence. For some in China the internet has become a new frontier in the fight for human rights. It may seem America will soon have a similar fight on their hands. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has threatened to blackout his site for a day in protest against SOPA and he is supported by other members of the Internet community, most notably the founders of Google, YouTube, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, eBay, Amazon, Mozilla as well Vint Cerf, one of the ‘fathers’ of the Internet. In the past politicians have been able to pass unpopular bills like this quietly and freely, however the rise of the Internet and its communities it has spawned has meant that there has been a louder voice for opposition. This was apparent when web hosting company Go Daddy withdrew its support for SOPA after an online campaign led to the mass withdrawal of domain names from the Go Daddy company. This has not, however, stopped other large companies, such as Sony, Disney and Time Warner pledging their support for SOPA.
The Internet has been famous for allowing new companies to enter the market, with the incredible rise of Twitter, eBay and Reddit in recent years. But SOPA has the possibility to undo all this, create high barriers to entry and stunt the growth of new independent and innovative online businesses. The music and film industry has always looked for more ways to clamp down on file sharing, but with the proposal of SOPA it has gone too far. In the battle against piracy, Hollywood has reverted to outrageous, undemocratic nonsense which the American public should be angry about. And yet outrageous, undemocratic nonsense will get increasingly scarier as people realise it’s effectively censoring knowledge.