For the past several generations, the voters of this country have battled against commercialization of public media. In the twenties, it was radio stations. In the fifties, it was television channels. And today, it is the Internet.
Two bills that are similar in purpose and wording have caused a great amount of controversy among young people and are currently sitting in Congress being revised and voted on — SOPA in the House of Representatives, and PIPA in the Senate. Although the names of the bills are well recognized, many people are surprisingly unaware of their implications.
Sophomore, Amanda Webster, feels she “doesn’t know enough about it to judge whether it’s going to violate our rights,” a common sentiment among her peers.
SOPA has been advertised as an attempt to fight online trafficking of copyrighted intellectual property by barring websites that display illegal content and preventing search engines, such as Google and Bing, and possibly even internet providers, from linking people to those sites. Although it might help protect the intellectual property of large companies like Disney, the threat it poses to Freedom of Speech is too great to be ignored.
According to Dr. Deborah Vance, Communication Department Chair, “The fundamental issue is who has access, who has control of the internet, or if it remains the pretty much open forum we have right now.”
Provisions in SOPA state that owners of websites will be responsible for removing infringing material from the site and will bear the burden of proof if he or she is sued by a copyright owner. As it is written, the bill places an unreasonable amount of responsibility on the owners of websites, especially ones that are open forum or host sites such as YouTube, Tumblr, WordPress, and Flickr. The wording of the bill is so loose that a single complaint about a post on one of these sites could shut down the entire domain.
Vance compares the situation to something more concrete.“ If there’s an accident on a street, instead of cleaning it up, you just shut the whole street down,” which is a much clearer demonstration of how extreme the measures would be.
Not only would the bill place unreasonable pressure on individual websites, but it would completely redefine how people interact via the internet. With such harsh punishments, many potential internet users would be deterred from posting anything for fear of law suits or even jail time. In that capacity, SOPA would “not just be a deterrent of speech, but it would have a chilling effect on community,” said Vance. Social media sites would become much more regulated and the flow of information that is enjoyed today would become severely limited.
A good question to bring up is how the copyright laws are defined. When copyright law was first created, it belonged to a single individual and was meant to allow the creator to share his or her artwork and still protect personal interests. Today, however, corporations can own copyrights; they no longer die with individuals, but remain a constant income source for large companies.
To be fair, the companies are entitled to their profits, but owning a copyright has now become less about spreading and sharing artwork and more about protecting it from being shared. Therefore, a better solution to the problem might be a redefinition of copyright laws instead of SOPA and other like-minded censorship bills.
This is one of the largest issues concerning the flow of information for our generation. It comes down to whether we are willing to risk the Freedom of Speech we currently possess over the internet to protect the profits of copyright owners. If you would like to get involved in helping to stop SOPA and PIPA, you can visit www.google.com/landing/takeaction/ to sign Google’s petition or you can call your local and state Representatives.