This last week was an apparent victory for opponents of SOPA and PIPA, but advocates of free speech and a free internet had best stay vigilant. As Mashable so aptly put it, “SOPA and PIPA are dead, but only in the way a zombie is dead.” Not only is the battle against the piracy of copyrighted material far from over, but there are also a myriad of political interests who are continually arguing for greater control over internet content.
On the surface, SOPA’s goals seemed positive and admirable, but not only was the execution of those protections so deeply and completely flawed from a technical standpoint, it was also ripe for governmental abuse and selective enforcement. One could argue that SOPA merely represented an opportunity for government to gain restrictive controls over the internet in the name of fighting piracy. What they would eventually do with such autocratic powers we could only imagine. And the way this legislation was written, it was like well-meaning parents trying to control their teenager’s infatuation with a new video game, without actually taking any time to try to understand the game itself, or what might be so appealing about it. “You are gonna stop playing this now, or we’ll just take away your Xbox!”
These proponents of a more restricted internet, such as Senator Joe Lieberman, regularly argue for tighter controls, including government “kill switches” and other forms of strict content filtering, and in the process of this lobbying, they have repeatedly and openly expressed admiration for the kinds of systems that nations like China use to control their people’s communications.
While we all understand the need to regulate postings that contain harmful content, SOPA sought to hold the wrong people accountable.
Imagine a large and busy cafe with a thousand conversations going on all at once, and at one of the tables, there is talk of illegal activities. Under a SOPA-like approach, instead of going after the guilty individuals, the cafe itself is held responsible, and in this case, the business is shut down entirely, the owners arrested and taken away. If this example seems like an exaggeration, this is exactly what the U.S. federal government did this week to the owners of the file sharing site Megaupload, even crossing international borders in order to get to the people at the very top. On the other hand, there were no reports of arresting actual users of the site, the ones doing the alleged pirating.
Under SOPA, if someone so much as left a comment on your website with a single link to another site containing pirated content, your internet presense could be immediately and irrevocably disappeared without so much as an explanation, let alone a trial or any other due process.
The flow of information in our modern world is a double-edged sword. It empowers all people, and enhances all our capabilities, for both helpful and harmful goals. There are already plenty of copyright laws on the books that can be used to prosecute intellectual property pirates, but government seems to want to push off the responsibility of enforcing these laws onto the rest of us by turning the web into a giant snitch state, while the overzealous wannabe police of the internet are ready for any opportunity to go on another raid.
If you value your free internet, don’t let your guard down for a moment. Just when you think the SOPA/PIPA zombie is finally down, he’ll get right back up again to come after what you value most. “Brains. … BRAINS!!!”