Proposed bills threaten our Internet freedom
Published: Saturday, November 26, 2011
Updated: Sunday, November 27, 2011 15:11
The Internet is one of the United States' most innovated and growing industries. It enables free and open communication among billions, promoting civil discourse and fueling Democratic uprisings across the globe. But two bills proposed by Congress threaten our free Internet and give the power of Internet censorship to the entertainment industry. In the Senate, it's the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act and in the House, the Stop Online Privacy Act.
Their purposes make sense to some. Private corporations want the ability to shut down unauthorized sites where people download movies, television shows and music. Under the current practice, parties request that websites take down pirated material. Under these bills, TV networks and entertainment giants can ask banks, Internet service providers and domain-name registrars to stop doing business all together with websites they find promoting pirated material. The bills also allow the Department of Justice to act on behalf of the copyright holders and block entire websites accused of promoting piracy.
These laws will change the entire balance of power on the Net. They give unchecked power to the entertainment industry and will cripple new start-up websites accused of piracy. These bills attack free expression on the Internet, which often uses copyrighted video and audio clips.
It can also threaten innovative social media websites that may be perceived as piracy havens by corporations. In the past, music and film companies have attacked many new technologies – like the DVD and MP3 – claiming that they were tools for piracy. These same companies have sued video-hosting platforms like Veoh and YouTube, according to CNET News. Stories from USA Today and CNN show they have even used legal penalties written for large scale commercial piracy to go after families and children.
Even if you trust corporations and the U.S. government not to abuse their new power to censor the Internet, what about the countries that follow in our path and pass similar laws? People around the world will have very different types of Internet, and unscrupulous governments will have powerful tools to hinder free expression.
Google, AOL, eBay, Facebook, Yahoo, Mozilla and Twitter all have opposed these bills together in an open letter to Congress, with Google calling the bills "draconian" earlier this month. However, with their tremendous bi-partisan support, these bills may soon become law. Our government is tampering with the Internet's basic structure to protect the entertainment industry. But Hollywood movies don't get grassroots candidates elected. They don't overthrow corrupt regimes, and the entire entertainment industry does not even contribute that much to our economy.
The Internet does all this and more. Corporations already have tools to fight piracy with legislation such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, the PRO-IP Act of 2007 and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement of 2011. They have the power to take down specific content, to sue peer-to-peer software companies, like Napster, out of existence and to sue journalists just for talking about how to copy a DVD. They have a history of stretching and abusing their powers. So the question is, how far will they take all this? The answer is obvious: as far as we will let them.