SOPA/American Censorship Day

Today there is a hearing in the U.S. House Judiciary Committee on a bill that is being called the “Stop Online Privacy Act”, or SOPA. It is the House companion to the PROTECT IP bill that came through the Senate earlier this year. Both bills are fundamentally flawed, and dangerous for all kinds of Internet platforms and networks.

The House bill is notable for who supports and who opposes it. On the supporting side — and, with one exception, the only people who are going to be allowed to testify on the bill this morning — are the MPAA, several unions with job ties in the motion picture industry, Pfizer, Mastercard, Chanel, and other organizations with a stake in current copyright (list). Opposing the bill is a growing coalition including:

  • Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo, eBay, Mozilla — all companies that have made a fortune thanks in large part to the Safe Harbor provisions in the DMCA, which this bill threatens to overturn (letter)
  • The American Library Association and Association of Research Libraries– the largest library organizations in the US (letter)
  • Creative Commons, EFF, The Free Software Foundation, Public Knowledge, and the Wikimedia Foundation — free-culture and open access tech advocacy organizations
  • Demand Progress, Fight for the Future, PPF — open government organizations (letter)
  • Renowned law professors from across the land (letter)
  • Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, US PIRG (letter)
  • Human-rights organizations from around the world (letter)

This bill threatens user-generated content sites — sites like Etsy, or Flickr, whose users may post infringing material without the site’s knowledge. Although both of these sites comply with the DMCA provisions of seeking removal when such material is posted, these bills make it possible for private corporations to demand and achieve takedown by targeting site funding — search engine results and payment and ad networks.

These bills make it possible for the US. Government to censor the Internet — sending a clear message around to the world, including to dictatorships and repressive regimes, that it is actually ok to do so. The bills include far-reaching provisions that would require changes to DNS, changes that would endanger Internet security, and are so broadly written that although they target foreign file-sharing sites they could target just about any American website as well. There are also provisions about willful infringement and public performance that seek to rewrite current copyright law, putting libraries at risk (which means that this bill has the dubious distinction of endangering both my day job and my volunteer work). This set of bills, if passed, would surely have a chilling effect on one of the most vibrant sectors of our economy — and, in the case of Wikimedia, one of the largest and broadest-reaching educational projects in the world, which is why we have officially come out against the bill as well. One of the things that I have been slow to learn — and that not many people know — is that organizations like Wikimedia, or like many of the largest tech firms listed above, depend entirely for their continued safe existence on certain provisions of US copyright law. Take those away, and the Internet as we know it is at risk.

But don’t take my word for it — read that letter from law professors above. These bills must not pass.

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