Copyright or Copywrong?

December 7, 2011

Political Theory

Ah the beauty of Google. It is the freedom to search for anything and have immediate access to it.  Anything from apples to zucchinis, armadillos to zebras, Amazonian Rainforests to Zimbabwe culture. Yes, that is the true gift of the Internet. It is the ultimate liberty to go to YouTube and watch, well whatever we wish to watch. On the flip side, you can upload videos yourself so long as you obey Copy Right Laws.

However, a new legislation has just arrived that threatens this system.

The Protect IP Act is a new legislation that has just arrived at the Senate. Also known as the Stop Online Piracy Act, seeks to protect American Intellectual Property. The most notable quality of this act is that it is not aiming to censor political views or religious speech. Instead, it would allow the attorney general to have Internet service providers block any sites without a court hearing or trial if they host any material or content that causes copyright infringement. In addition to Internet service providers are advertising networks, search engines, and payment providers. This is a significant change as the current law protects them from any civil liability if they remove the problematic material or content immediately.

Furthermore, the bill would also make companies liable for users’ actions. In other words, any problematic actions taken by the users of a site puts the site at risk. Think of what would happen to YouTube! Think of the millions of users who are uploading questionable content as you read this blog.

Currently, social networks such as Facebook and Twitter have protection under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that gives these websites immunity from harm as long as they take down any problematic content when notified

I’m sure you know what I’m talking about when a video on YouTube is taken down and a screen that says, “This Video was taken because it is the property of Viacom.” Or even when the video remains but the audio is taken out. How annoying.

The main point is that the bill seeks to destroy the power gained through cyber networks. This power is a good one, something that should be welcomed because it allows users to communicate, explore, and share with one another at an astonishing rate. To censor that communication would cripple the very core of cyberspace. In essence, this bill threatens free speech.

How do you think this bill will play out? Would the Internet be what it is if it was censored on this kind of level? Would the Internet be even useful without the freedom it grants to the users who utilize it?




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2 Comments on “Copyright or Copywrong?”

  1. nluongo Says:

    I think that SOPA is a very misguided bill that gives the government way too much power over the Internet. The fact that it allows the Attorney General to shut down a website for something that a user has posted, not the site itself, is like shutting down a public square because somebody stood there and sold counterfeit material. It uses an axe when it should use a scalpel and it could cause a huge amount of collateral damage. Taking down an entire site like YouTube because of a single video posted by a random user is outrageous. The Internet is the strongest tool we have for sharing ideas and communicating between people, and while we should protect companies’ rights to their material, it should be done with a minimal amount of infringement on the rest of the law-abiding Web.

  2. adamskt Says:

    I am not aware of all of the details of the Stop Online Piracy Act, but from this post, it seems like it could severely limit what is available on the internet. In an extreme situation, I can imagine a time in which a majority of the internet may not be free. If things are only able to be posted in one context, people would be willing to pay for access to it. Basic principles of economics suggest that this could work. However, it is unlikely that passage of this act would cause this to occur. What is more likely is that websites will be punished for actions that their users take. This seems unfair to me, as the illegal posting could have been due to a mistake or lack of knowledge. Taking away the website’s chance to take down the material once it is aware of it seems unreasonable.

    On the other hand, though, there must be a way to enforce copyrights on web-based materials. With the ever-growing use of the internet, it has been nearly impossible to make sure that copyrights actually protect the ideas they were written for. Without this law, ideas are stolen every day. People work just as hard for web-based ideas as they do for inventions of tangible objects. Yet no one is concerned when those are copyrighted.

    Overall, I think that, like in most situations, a middle ground is necessary here. Internet ideas need to be protected in order to uphold the reliability of our copyrights, but viewers’ access and posting ability should not be limited severely.

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