SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, is a radical bill currently being considered by Congress that would wreak havoc on web-based innovation. The nice title suggests the provisions serve merely to prevent copyright infringement and make it harder for people to steal music, videos or other licensed material. Who doesn’t want to stop piracy? While this is a very real problem that needs to be solved, SOPA (and its counterpart PIPA, Protect IP Act) has the potential to do way more damage than good for anyone who uses the internet, which is pretty much everyone.
At its core, SOPA gives the U.S. Government the power to censor sites accused (but not proven guilty) of copyright infringement and disrupt a user’s ability to reach those sites. This has huge implications for social sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google, and eBay (whose founders all publically oppose the bill) and thousands of other sites, including blogs.
For instance, say someone on Twitter posts a photo that a media company suspects violates a copyright. Just the accusation alone could result in the domain being blocked, which would not just affect that Twitter user, it would affect ALL Twitter users. And because the bill would give 3rd parties the right to block or redirect domains, it basically alters the entire underlying structure and security of the internet. This has huge consequences for banks, retail sites, and any site that stores info that gets retrieved or edited by users. The bill is a huge step backwards and puts the US in the company of countries like China and Iran who censor public access to information.
The main supporters of these bills are media companies and lobbyists who want to cripple a system they consider to be counter to their business goals. So basically, if you can’t find a way to leverage the internet for your business, then just shut it down. Hopefully, Congress will see through this nonsense but defeat will depend on awareness and opposition from users and businesses.
A groundswell of tech leaders and entrepreneurs including founders of Netscape, Twitter, Flickr, Yahoo!, YouTube, PayPal, Craigslist, and Wikipedia published an open letter opposing SOPA in the Washington Post. You can keep up to date on the bill’s progress via Lifehacker and check out the bill for yourself on the official gov’t site.
So what can you do? Speak out against SOPA on your blogs and social networks and make sure your local representatives know that you oppose internet censorship. You can see if your congressperson supports SOPA by visiting SOPATRACK.