SOPA, the Stop Online Privacy Act, is a bill introduced in the US House of Representatives on October 26, 2011. This act was introduced with the hopes of US law enforcement and copyright holders to fight the selling of counterfeit goods and putting up information on the web that violated copyright laws. This has brought up controversy, especially recently because it is being voted on tomorrow December 15, 2011. Ideally, this makes sense. Why should some websites be able to profit from copyrighted material that is not theirs or fake goods?
Information about SOPA and its contents can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stop_Online_Piracy_Act
The part of the issue that brings about issues is that entire websites, search engines and blogging forums could be shut down for having a link that leads to another site that infringes copyrights. For example, if you were to post a link that violates intellectual property righs on your friend’s wall on Facebook, with or without you knowing it is violating these rights, Facebook is responsible for removing the link or the government would have the right to shut down the website as a whole. But Facebook is not the only website this is limited too. The websites that we use most on a daily basis would become the main targets of the Act (i.e. Google, Twitter, Zynga, eBay, Yahoo, etc.). The aforementioned websites go as far as writing a letter to members of Congress addressing their concerns. They write: “We support the bills’ stated goal – providing additional enforcement rules to combat the rogue websites that are dedicated to copyright infringement or counterfeiting.Unfortunately, the bill as drafted would expose law abiding US internet and technology companies to new, uncertain liabilities, private rights of action, and technology mandates that would require monitoring of websites. We are concerned that these measures pose a serious risk to our industry’s continued track record of innovation and job-creation, as well our nation’s cyber-security.” Their argument is that these major search engines or social-networking mediums bring economic growth and job opportunities to people all around the World. A limitation or shutting-down of these websites could result in job losses in a time where the economy is moving towards the gutter… exactly what we need, right?
(The letter from the CEOs to government officials can be found here: http://politechbot.com/docs/sopa.google.facebook.twitter.letter.111511.pdf )
This act would also be going against an earlier drawn US act, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This act provided a safe harbor for websites that acted in good efforts to remove copyright infringement from their websites. The major issue which I have not even brought up yet is also the most obvious, the violation of the First Amendment of the US Constitution. Freedom of speech, press, etc. would be violated. Entire websites would be shut down limiting people’s expression of their opinions and the mediums by which they can express these opinions. There may also be a violation to the Sixth Amendment as well. Before being able to appear in court and receive a trial, a website can be completely shut down which can significantly hurt businesses who rely on the internet. If the act gets passed, any website (like YouTube) with user-generated-content can be shut down for copyright infringements. Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, compared the web censorship to censorship in foreign nations like China. China has a kill switch for the Internet that the government can use anytime they feel necessary. Much like this, this act would give the American government the power to shut down any website on the basis of possible “infringement” which can be used very broadly. It is almost giving them too much power.
This brings about similar issues to the BART article we read in class in that the government is censoring information. John Stuart Mill talks about how everyone should be allowed to express opinions and beliefs in any way they want without government intervention for that is how we reach truth. Similar to the assignment of the first long paper, what do you think he, or any of the other social contract theorist, would say about the matter? Do you think the government is taking their power too far? What other approaches might be possible to limit copyright infringements and counterfeit goods without violating any of our major freedoms as Americans? Let’s hear what you think…