Last week, we saw the suspension of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) due mainly to the work of websites blacking out or censoring their sites and the individual response that was raised from the blackouts.
While this does signal a postponement of two recent bills that would have made Internet censorship a very real thing, it does not mean the bills will not return in a revised state or other bills will not be brought up.
While SOPA has been sent back to the drawing board, the Protect IP Act (PIPA) might make a comeback and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) has come to light as a global attack on Internet rights. All of these attack different parts of the Internet, but the overarching reason why we need to remain focused on this topic is that, if one of these bills were to become law, there would be a major breach of our freedom of speech on the Internet.
SOPA would have given U.S. law enforcement more rights over stopping websites from hosting illegally trafficked copyrighted materials. While originally brought forth to fight illegal activity, it would give law enforcement greater rights to censor and shut down sites that have tertiary connections to these sites.
Downloading illegal content has always been against the law and these bills would not change that. This fight is about protecting the liberties and freedoms that are vital to the Internet’s success and prosperity.
Most of us briefly saw the issues with government censorship on Jan. 18 when Internet sites large and small chose to black themselves out. While this was only temporary, it still created a large hindrance to many Internet users. If SOPA, PIPA or any future bill with similar wording were allowed to become a law, this temporary roadblock could become a long-term one.
Internet censorship would cripple the Internet information exchange as we know it and would cause more issues than politicians want to believe. It could easily signal the death knell for many heavy traffic websites that you use and love. Even sites that may not be directly distributing illegal content could see censorship or other negative side effects to these bills.
We do not condone the stealing of music, videos or other intellectual property, but we should not allow the government to have a strong hand over the Internet that would become legal with laws such as this. There needs to be a proper law that both protects the intellectual rights and the freedom of using the Internet.
Over the past week, we have seen the shutdown of Megaupload and Megavideo due to the ample amount of stolen content on those sites. While this is a positive step to prevent illegal content on the Web, it could start to spread to websites who take a more proactive step in preventing these uploads if these new bills succeeded. Sites like YouTube could see their downfall if stronger laws are approved.
There also needs to be a stronger fight against piracy and other malicious hacking that has exploded over the past few years. While it will be difficult to walk this line, it is something that politicians must put more effort and thought into than with SOPA.
The collective work of websites and individuals proved that grassroots political change is not dead yet. While this is a point of celebration, we should not pause our fight against bills that could destroy our freedoms.