A Petition to Stop SOPA Tests the Internet’s Power to Save Itself
And their greatest weapon is, ultimately, themselves. As a bill called the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, gets ready to go to the Senate on December 15th (it passed the House recently) the Internet world has voiced anxiety that the legislation will restrict Internet freedom–and they have started an online petition that may stop SOPA in its tracks. There is particular concern that SOPA will limit usage of sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter (now, that got your attention, didn’t it).
The bill was introduced in the House in October by Republican Representative Lamar Smith, from Texas. If passed, SOPA would expand the ability of U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to combat online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. What does that mean? Under SOPA, the government can force a site to shut down with no more than a notice from a copyright or trademark owner who alleges that a single page of the site “enables or facilitates” illegal activity — like copyright infringement — by third parties. SOPA would also allow the U.S. Department of Justice and copyright holders to seek court orders requiring online advertising networks, payment processors and related entities to cease payments to websites and web-based services accused of copyright infringement.
So far, Reddit reports that over 900,000 people have signed an online petition asking Congress not to sign the SOPA bill. MoveOn has also lent support to the petition. Anti-SOPA people call it the “Internet blacklist bill,” and say that it will allow the music and television industries to shut down the aforementioned sites. The bill also includes a provision that would make it a felony to stream unlicensed content, like videos from YouTube.
The signatures in the anti-SOPA petition will serve as a filibuster, read out loud, name-by-name, by Senator Wyden (D-Ore), when the bill is presented for the Senate vote this week. This may be the first case where Internet activism is being taken up so directly in a Congressional vote. Wyden’s main argument is that the bill would actually make the Internet less secure, because government intervention disrupts, for example, the Domain Name System, and has an overall “effect on the net’s structure.” If the bill passes, he says, we may be headed toward a future where only people who can afford a lawyer will be able to create a website. Wyden is also speaking out against a similar act that restricts Internet usage, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), which would allow the U.S. Department of Justice to seek court orders that will require Internet service providers to shut down websites accused of copyright infringement. This may post a threat to personal blogs as well as content-sharing sites like YouTube or Hulu.
Blogging on Forbes, Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, said that SOPA “would fundamentally alter the way in which the Internet operates by killing the very innovations, wealth and jobs that have made it the indispensable tool of the our era.” When it comes down to it, SOPA represents the will of the music, television, and other cultural production industries to win the battle of intellectual property. In 2000, lawsuits were brought against Napster for copyright infringement, and it was eventually left with no choice but to declare bankruptcy, ending the brief era of free music downloads. The case of SOPA bears some similarities to that of Napster–but it would have much wider implications beyond downloading files. That’s why it’s sparked so much anxiety, and why it will be interesting to see whether the filibuster is effective in the Senate on the 15th. Reading more than 900,000 names out loud should, if anything, give our Senators time to think carefully about their votes.