Internet Censorship

Congress is currently considering legislation that could change the internet as we know it. Because of pressure to stop the violation of intellectual property rights, Congress is considering passing the “Protect IP Act,” which could harm freedom of expression on the internet. At its core, the bill is about stopping piracy and protecting intellectual property rights, but it could do more than that.

If the bill were passed, the Attorney General would be allowed to “create a blacklist of sites to be blocked by Internet service providers, search engines, payment providers and advertising networks,” all without a court hearing (Mackinnon). This could give the Attorney General the right to shut down sites which are currently spark great debate, and allow for individual expression. Additionally, the law could allow private companies to sue service providers that host media which infringes copyright. This means that websites will be held responsible for all content on its website. For example, this would force YouTube to check all videos before they are posted to make sure there is no copyright violation. This has the potential to harm free speech. As the author of this article describes, service providers will tend to over-censor their sites to avoid facing litigation.

Mill would argue that this censorship robs mankind of the benefits of debate. Currently, the internet is a incredible vehicle for discussion and the interaction of opposing viewpoints. Other countries with more strict censorship, like China, do not enjoy the same public debate. However, Mill does acknowledge that there are times when expression is harmful and shouldn’t be allowed. At what point should the government step in, and to what extent should they censor the internet?

If Congress passes this bill, the question arises, at what point will censorship stop? Could censorship extent to political debate? Do you think that internet censorship is necessary at all? Is this bill necessary of misguided?





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8 Comments on “Internet Censorship”

  1. Steve Dougherty Says:

    I think SOPA/PIPA are incredibly misguided. There are elements of their motivations that I think are reasonable – companies should be able to prevent counterfeit products from being sold – but they go about it in completely unreasonable ways. Even though the DMCA has very stupid ideas in it – breaking even trivial copy protection is a crime? No format-shifting? Jailbreaking a device one owns is illegal? – it does have a safe harbor provision. Safe harbor allows sites like Google, YouTube, or Tumblr to host content without being liable for what their users upload, provided they are responsive to requests to remove infringing content. It’s flawed – fradulent takedown (that one may or may not be a publicity stunt) requests are common and if my understanding is correct a filing party doesn’t have to prove ownership of the copyright – but at least it can’t be used to cut off a site from the internet and its sources of income with mere civil accusation.

    I notice that personal infringement of copyright isn’t universally considered a bad thing – in Switzerland infringing copyright for personal purposes is explicitly legal and viewed as a good thing.

    I don’t think censorship has a place in debate or online – it’s the “who watches the watchers” problem. What seems reasonable to me is preventing people from forcing others to hear what they say. People can say what they want, but I can’t be required to listen to them if I don’t want to.

    • Michael Zanger Says:

      I agree with some opinions Steve makes. There are many torrent sites out there that have servers in Switzerland now to avoid being shut down.

      SOPA/PIPA is definitely misguided. The US government was successful in shutting down Limewire, BearShare, Kazaa, etc. and I think the attack on the individual sites would be a safer approach that doesn’t infringe on the rights of Americans.

      The internet is an open source platform and to regulate it seems absolutely ridiculous.

      By the way, I believe President Obama already said he would veto the bill if it passed Congress.

  2. nozomigg Says:

    I agree with Mill, and not with this bill.
    There are times when the content that is being presented to the entire nation should be edited. Sometimes there are things that people just don’t need to know or hear to avoid huge, unnecessary debate about things the public may not have enough resources to completely form an opinion on. Mill is right in acknowledging that not every case is one that should be for the whole world to know.
    On the other hand, however, those very rare cases I doubt would be coming from the public to begin with. While the public may have some radical opinions, none of them will ever get to the point of being harmful. No harm has ever come from someone’s opinion as of yet; meaning, whatever the government is doing now is working just fine.
    With that being said, the government putting additional constraints on the public’s opinion is not only an overindulgence of power, but will guaranteed come back to hurt them in the end. The public will react negatively to losing one of the last rights that makes America stand out from all other nations, and will probably cause more trouble than if the government had just let them say their original opinions about other issues to begin with.
    The government needs to remember that while the internet is a powerful tool, it’s not the only one. Most of our greatest revolutions have come from times before Macs and Google, and we haven’t lost the ability to hear public opinions without it. People in this country love to argue; and they’ll undoubtedly find a way to argue about not being able to argue.

  3. jkb34383 Says:

    In terms of intellectual property rights, internet censorship if requested by the owner/creator, must be honored, as it is their right to do so. However I am confused by/disagree with certain parts of your post. This act is clearly to help ensure intellectual property rights are not exploited. You make it seem as if the Attorney General is developing tyrannical attitudes and using this act to infringe on peoples free speech. Blacklisting websites that use the work of others without consent does not infringe on anyone’s free speech. For example, how could illegally uploading a movie to the internet be considered any such infringement? If anything this act just shows that congress is finally cracking down on an issue that has been ongoing since the invention of the internet.

  4. chkeeler Says:

    The government mandating internet censorship would be the fall of democracy. We, as Americans, value freedom above most everything else. Our founding fathers set up our country to ensure that our right to freedom would forever be protected. Soldiers fight constantly to protect our ability to maintain freedom ,and not allow us fall under the control of invading governments. Freedom of expression allows us to create our social identities. Being able to communicate our ideas and beliefs, no matter how strong they might be, makes us unique. The internet is one of the biggest platforms for freedom of expression, so banning it as a place of individual expression would cause great uproar.
    If the government passes this bill, it will the first domino to fall in the censorship of expression in society. I understand that there are some who abuse their privilege to free speech on the internet, and that is why internet censorship is even a discussion. But if the act is indeed implemented, similar acts will soon follow. Who is to say that the internet is the only place where expression should be regulated? The government will begin to examine different places where they can implement more restrictions, and soon
    we may lose that right altogether. If we wish to maintain a democratic society, this cannot happen.

  5. mzselig Says:

    Congress does have an obligation to protect the intellectual property of Americans from piracy and other kinds of theft online but this bill does have the potential to extend past that goal.
    There are many websites that steal the intellectual property of individuals and groups, such as movies and music, and need to be dealt with according to the law. This act would allow the government to better handle this kind of epidemic on the internet we are seeing. That being said, any website even advertising those kinds of sites which provide pirated materials would have the potential to be shut down despite their main content. This could have a detrimental effect on the freedom of expression of people on the internet. I feel that, if the act were to be implemented, there would need to be guidelines to prevent the government from indiscriminately shutting down websites simply because there were traces of illegal websites on them.

  6. mimirofl Says:

    This bill sounds like very bad news to the internet. It would give corporates even more power than they already have; if this bill censors movies and music from the web, we would not be able to hulu or youtube it and are we actually willing to pay that 10 dollar movie ticket or 1.99 download every time to go watch one movie or listen to one song. Perhaps we will if it was really worth it, but we wouldn’t even have the option if the internet becomes censored. This bill could also potentially shut down the whole internet if passed; what if we were to post a photo of the Little Mermaid on someone’s wall on Facebook, Facebook could get shut down because it would be infringement on Disney’s copyright.

  7. Karsten Smolinski Says:

    First off, the fact that the sites can be blocked without a court trial is absolutely ridiculous. This is a clear violation of freedom of speech. I can somewhat understand if the government wants to protect intellectual property, but the ability to just block sites at will without going to court first could definitely lead to problems with free expression.
    As for the example of youtube being held responsible for the content that users post on it, well thats just completely stupid too. The government is forgetting that the internet functions in a a very unique manner. Sites such as Wikipedia, Facebook, and Youtube are almost more public property than they are private companies. It would be impossible to expect these companies to be able to monitor all of the content that gets uploaded to their sites each day.
    This bill is definitely misguided.

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