SOPA was only the beginning

Anthony Goreczny, Staff Writer

Imagine a world without Facebook, Google or Wikipedia. It’s not hard to after the Internet blackout that was organized as a protest in response to the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).

These bills were so strongly opposed that over 7000 websites shut themselves down for 24 hours. The bills were intended to do exactly what their names indicate. The problem, however, is what that would have actually done.

These bills, to put it simply, would have allowed the American government and powerful corporations to essentially control the flow of information and content available on the Internet.

The first of the two bill to emerge was PIPA. It was proposed  to the Senate on May 5, 2011 and sponsored by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy from Vermont.  The purpose was to allow the Justice Department or a corporation to demand that any websites which supported or linked to copyrighted content could be forced to remove to remove the material in question or block access to that site, even without a trial.

While this may seem guiltless after a cursory glance, closer inspection reveals that this bill could have grave implications in the realms of free speech and due process of the law. The other, more well-known bill was SOPA, which has a similar goal and methods, and would have had many of the same consequences. SOPA was proposed on October 25, 2011 House of Representatives by Republican Representative Lamar Smith from Texas. In addition to the powers outline in PIPA, SOPA adds those of another Senate bill, known as the Commercial Felony Streaming Act, which makes web streaming of copyrighted content a felony with a penalty of five years in prison.

What constitutes a felony? Apparently if the video in question is watched ten or more times in 180 days then the person who uploaded the video, the website it is hosted on, any websites which linked to the video, possibly the Internet service providers which the uploader used and even those that host the servers of the websites involved are all liable of being charged with the felony.

For example, if a mother were to upload a video of her daughter singing “Hurt” by Christina Aguilera to Youtube, as soon as that video reaches ten views within 180 days, she in now a felon capable of being sentenced to prison. Youtube is also liable, as well as any website which may have linked to the video, including Facebook, Google, Wikipedia, Stubleupon, Digg, Yahoo!, Blogspot, Twitter, Bing … you get the idea.

Additional information available on shows which organizations supported and opposed the bill. Almost every major media corporation or publisher supported the bill, including the National Music Publishers’ Association, Independent Film & Television Alliance, Motion Picture Association of America, Viacom, Comcast and the Association of American Publishers. Also supporting the bill were massive corporations like Eli Lilly and Company, Dow Chemical and Estée Lauder Companies.

The regulations these corporations favored would not only have repercussions in the US, but would affect countries around the world. This is because the Internet isn’t only an American innovation, but a global phenomenon. What right does a single country have to regulate a public domain? These bills would be akin to Congress declaring that it was planning on stopping ships in international waters and confiscating any goods it felt were illegitimate, then impounding the ships.

But the bills were defeated, right? That is true, but both branches of congress have already proposed a new bill restricting Internet use. And since they failed to pass a bill which focused primarily on American websites, they have decided instead to expand their attack to those hosted by foreign countries. This new bill, currently on the floor in both the House of Representatives and the Senate is known as OPEN, or the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act.

This new act would take those same measures that were so strongly protested in SOPA and PIPA and direct them at the websites of foreign countries, regardless of whether the country is our ally or not. Not only would this prevent people around the globe from accessing those sites, but it also has the potential to initiate an international Internet censorship conflict.

The one thing that is most disturbing about OPEN is that even though, as evidenced by the recent Internet blackout and dissension, the American public is opposed to the government censoring the Internet. Congress’ reaction to the rejection of these bills is to propose another, with the exact same goal,  just using an underhanded method to acquire a cheap victory spurred on by the massive media corporations.

The fact that these corporations have more influence upon the United States government than its own citizens is a terrifying realization, and a clear indication that any attempts to censor the Internet, especially those laced with international aggression, must be rejected outright by American citizens. There is something woefully out of order when people must organize a protest to prevent the passing of a bill fully supported by their government.

Whatever happened to government of the people, by the people, for the people?