The Implications of SOPA and PIPA on the Internet

Written By: Joel Suss

Today, Wikipedia has taken itself offline in protest. Thousands of other sites, including the host of this blog, WordPress, are taking part by removing content or by being blacked-out, protesting the first attempt by the US government to censure and control the internet.  It is a monumental and unprecedented day in the life of the internet.

While the stated objective of the legislation, to tackle online intellectual property theft, is valid in principle, the effects were they to become law would have serious negative implications for the internet and may not even be effective in limiting piracy. Here are some important details about the two bills, Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA): They would allow the attorney general to create a list of sites that must be blocked. Now here is the kicker: service to these sites may be shut off without a court hearing or trial. SOPA, the bill originating in the House of Representatives, goes even further than the Senate’s PIPA, allowing private companies to sue providers for hosting sites that infringe on copyright, even if it is unwittingly doing so. Imagine Google being bombarded with lawsuits, effectively crippling it.

Essentially, were these bills to become law, private companies would be able to effectively censure the internet. Established internet providers would be forced to employ censures to avoid legal challenges, leading to substantial financial cost for them. There is also a risk of over-censuring; deleting content that is legal but borderline in following the maxim ‘better safe than sorry’. Start-ups would be stifled as the requirements of these proposals would be daunting. As such, innovation would be seriously hampered. Moreover, if these proposal were to become law they may not be effective in ensuring intellectual property laws are upheld. Internet providers are targeted, but the operations that are engaging in piracy would be hardly effected as their sources of income are left untouched.

The World Wide Web, a bastion of free-thinking and information-sharing, is facing constraints and control that it has never been faced with before. Not surprisingly, internet companies and consumers are outraged at these bills now making their way through the US legislative chambers. Freedom of expression is under threat by large, impersonal corporations. The innovative and informational power of the internet may be ground to a halt. Economically speaking, the legislation may have a negative impact on growth as the internet has been and still is a major driver of the economy.

It seems that both sides are not happy with the legislation. Rupert Murdoch took to twitter to lambast Google and his perceived watering down of the legislation from what he and his like had wanted. “So Obama has thrown in his lot with Silicon Valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy, plain thievery.” (see this tweet and others here) Clearly, corporate interests do not feel as though this legislation will go far enough to secure their interests; namely, to protect intellectual property and end piracy which has crippled revenue and profits in the music industry and Hollywood among other industries. Murdoch, best known as the owner of the hyper-partisan and factually inaccurate Fox News and for the startling hacking scandal that rocked his British tabloid empire, is similar, both in appearance and personality, to Montgomery Burns. The very fact that he has taken to twitter to air his views on the need for corporations (such as his own behemoth, News Corp) to have ultimate power over internet content is the apex of irony.

Whether these bills actually become law remains to be seen. President Obama may decide to utilize his veto and “not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global internet.” (See the statement on the White House web site).

Today, the twitter universe and Facebook nation are alight with outrage over the proposed legislation. The amount of discussion taking place on these giants of social media is impressive to witness and signals the incensed reaction towards the potential censorship of the internet. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. This day will certainly go down in history as only one of the first salvos in the fight over control of the internet.

Certainly, intellectual property is an important concept that should be protected, being a hall-mark of Western civilization and an important principle that ultimately benefits economic activity. But at what cost?

For more information:

A great article which goes over the technical details of the bills, article by article, in view of their implications is on reddit by Jason Harvey.

One Comment to “The Implications of SOPA and PIPA on the Internet”

  1. The police/Brooks/Murdoch saga gets ever more labyrinthine. It’s now come out that the police lent her a horse! You know, as you would LOL! One imagines she didn’t look this gift in the mouth! Not that all these people were close or anything. Apparently the horse is dead now – does this mean its head has turned up on someone’s pillow somewhere?

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