Today much of the internet is protesting SOPA and PIPA, proposed government legislation that would give the government the power to indiscriminately censor the internet in the name of intellectual property rights.
Thousands of websites all over the web have chosen January 18th as the date they would “go dark”. The goal is to restrict access to the sites to raise awareness of what will be the inevitable outcome if censorship laws are allowed to pass. It is possible, given the number of people involved, that this may be the largest protest in human history. If congress and the senate don’t hear this, and ditch these bills, it will be the largest example yet of a failed democracy. The government exists to serve the people, and never before have the people been so opposed to a particular government action.
You may wonder, if this legislation is only targeting illegal piracy of intellectual property, then what is all the fuss about? Isn’t piracy something that we should endeavor to do away with? Even if we are to make the assumption, for the sake of argument, that piracy is the worlds greatest evil and should be stopped and all this government attention should be focused on it, SOPA and PIPA don’t do that much to stop it. What these laws do accomplish is establishing a legal framework for wanton censorship of websites.
The Internet is probably the most important technological advancement of my lifetime. Its strength lies in its open architecture and its ability to allow a framework where all voices can be heard. Like the printing press before it (which states also tried to regulate, for centuries), it democratizes information, and thus it democratizes power. If we allow Congress to pass these draconian laws, we’ll be joining nations like China and Iran in filtering what we allow people to see, do, and say on the Web.
In the same article, quoted and linked above, Adam Savage points out that laws like this can, and have been used for much more than they were intended. The DCMA law has been used countless times in such a manner. One such example is when the mystic crank, Uri Gellar, used the DCMA to have videos removed from Youtube that showed him being exposed as a fraud and humiliated. Uri Gellar didn’t own the copyright to those videos and, this is very important, the DCMA is much more restricted than SOPA or PIPA. Either of the new bills would make this sort of abuse much easier.
The government can’t be trusted with this kind of power. Maybe these law makers really do mean well, and maybe these powers will only be used to fight piracy and nothing else, for now. Governments change, and so do motives. In the unlikely situation that the motives for these laws being passed now are pure they will not stay that way for long. The founding fathers knew this, that is why the freedom of speech is secured in the very first amendment to the constitution.
It is essential to the improvement of mankind, as a whole, that information flow freely. The faster knowledge can travel, the faster the human race can improve, the faster we can test ideas and philosophies, the faster we can evolve as a whole. It is for this reason the internet should remain above governments or groups of people, it should be considered beyond control and built towards achieving an invincibility against regulation or restriction of any kind. The good that will come of such a philosophy will always outweigh the bad.
The MPAA has claimed that today’s SOPA and PIPA protests are an abuse of power, an hysterical comment coming from the people paying off members of congress and lying outright to achieve the goal of censoring the entire internet so they can shape it into a vehicle to make them money. Wil Wheaton has some great commentary on this at his TUMBLER.
tl;dr Sopa and PIPA are very, very bad. They must be stopped at all costs. We should endeavor to forge an internet beyond all governments ability to control. Put your thinking caps on.