Opinion

SOPA won’t stop piracy, but could limit what we can access online

When I log onto the Internet, Google Chrome lists the six most visited websites on my homepage. Among them are Facebook, Reddit.com, eBay, Twitter, and Gmail.

Now, imagine a worldwide web without any of these services and you’ll see the potential future of the Internet.

On Dec. 15, the House Judiciary Committee began laying the groundwork for a piece of legislation called the Stop Online Piracy Act (HR 3261), which would change the way every American accesses online information on a rudimentary level, and is one that many experts argue is as dangerous for the average Internet user as it is ineffective against Internet piracy.

The problems with the legislation are abundant: For one, the wording is so vague that it could potentially be used to take entire websites such as YouTube and Facebook offline completely and indefinitely. The way things are now, if a person logs onto YouTube and uploads a copyrighted video or song, YouTube is not held legally liable, so long as they remove the infringing video at the copyright holder’s request (using what is called a “DMCA takedown”). Under the new law, YouTube instead would be shut down entirely until that content and all other pieces of copyrighted material on the website were removed, and the site could be immediately shut down again if any more infringing material were uploaded by its millions of users.

Reddit.com’s general manager Erik Martin says that if passed in its current form, Reddit (a link aggregation site based in California, and the 59th-busiest site in the U.S.) would cease to exist. Posting on his website, he said, “We have a very small staff, about 11, mostly engineers, and even dealing with DMCA stuff is a big burden for us. SOPA would make running Reddit near impossible, and we have access to great lawyers through our parent company.”

He’s not alone. In fact, 8 out of the 10 highest-ranking websites on the Internet (according to Alexa.com, a website that tracks Internet traffic trends) have released statements critical of the bill. It could, however, affect any website; even the Port Orchard Independent’s site could be removed under SOPA in its current form if someone just left a link to copyrighted information in the comments section.

Beyond that, a major problem is the fact that many of our congressional representatives voting on the issue don’t even understand the bill or how it works. In a live stream of the Judiciary Committee’s hearing, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, can be heard saying “we’re going to do surgery on the Internet without any doctors or nurses in the room.” They won’t even take the time to slow down the legislative process to make amendments. Speaking to one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Howard Berman, D-Calif., Chaffetz asked if Berman thought it’d be “reasonable to do research and have discussions with experts about the possible ramifications of the bill,” to which Berman responded “I think the reasonable thing to do is show the seriousness of our intent by moving this bill forward.”

So why the rush? The answer is quite simple: According to watchdog site maplight.org, a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that monitors what industries donate to politicians, since the start of the 2010 election cycle, the 32 sponsors of this bill have recieved about 2 million dollars from the TV, music and movie industries. Compare that to the meager $525,000 from online industries and it becomes very clear that this isn’t an issue of liberals vs. conservatives; both reside on either side of this bill. This is nothing more than a power grab from the ultra-wealthy entertainment industry, who want to control what you see, and where you see it, stifling competitiveness both domestically and internationally.

I live in Washington’s 6th District, and when I contacted Rep. Norm Dicks, I was told by a staffer that the congressman was undecided on the issue, although the staff member confidently assured me that the issue “probably wouldn’t even go to vote,” as at the time it looked as if talks pertaining to the bill had been suspended for the year. Unfortunately for all of us, he was wrong and the committee decided instead to reconvene this week.

It is paramount that the American people give their input. Politicians may bend to the will of big-money lobbying once in office, but they also need to first be elected by the people to get there. I urge everyone reading this, in the 6th District or not, to call your representatives and let them know that SOPA, in its current form, is ineffective and dangerous. Let them know that it would remove services from the web that we use every day, and that it would squash  innumerable of Internet start-up companies, which is what the backbone of our nation’s economy once consisted of.

 

For more information, please log on to www.youtube.com/keepthewebopen to watch the entire House Judiciary Committee markup of SOPA, and to americancensorship.org/ for more information on SOPA, and how it can be stopped.

 

Caleb Wilson is a small business owner in South Kitsap

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