Right now, there is a bill before Congress that will change the American, and worldwide, technological landscape forever. The Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, is a massive legislative overhaul of our current laws regarding internet speech. A broadly written nightmare for people who enjoy their civil liberties, and believe in the free sharing of information, the Act (and its Senate equivalent the Protect IP Act) is ssentially a lengthy list of various reasons that various people can immediately have websites shut down. Being pimped through by the usual suspects in big Media under the guise of anti-bootlegging and anti-piracy, the legislation actually has much more sinister and far reaching aspects than that.
Regarding internet “piracy”, I am one of a growing number of people, such as the fine folks with Creative Commons and Kopimi, that in this modern age, once you create media you are in essence bestowing it upon the public. It is possible (and entirely justified) to retain recognition as the creator of whatever it may be, and your credit as that should be legally defensible; however, once a person obtains in whatever form your piece of work, if they want to share it through various methods that is their right. The reason large companies are against internet file sharing is that they are the purveyors of a large amount of honestly quite shitty product that has relied for decades on their dominance of the market. Today’s file sharing technology allows people to hear music and watch movies or tv shows that they would otherwise have no access to. File sharing allows artists, who have to do nothing but produce quality music, to gain exposure across the entire globe without relying on giant record labels. In the modern world, where 70% of Americans use illegal (free) file sharing and music downloading, the worldwide music industry’s profits have risen by between $200mil and $300mil every year for the past five years. At the same time, profits of RIAA members and major label sales have suffered more losses than gains. The conclusion I would draw from this is that music piracy is good for artists and labels worldwide, and simply bad to the American companies who have spent years peddling garbage while stifling competition and creativity. So it’s not that I don’t see why people are concerned about internet piracy, it is that I do not think their concerns are valid, in a supposedly free market system. File sharing simply encourages artists and labels to put out quality product, that people will want to buy, will want to attend concerts for, and will buy merchandise of. Bands that do this generally recognize the internet for the boon that it is.
However, as I said earlier, internet piracy is only a small bit of this exceedingly noxious legislation. More substantial and dangerous effects include giving the government the ability to take various forms of action against any website overseas that is visited by someone in the United States. Furthermore, the bill provides for the shutdown and blocking of sites immediately, before any sort of judicial process, and could end up providing criminal penalties including five years in prison for streaming online content. As neither the house nor the senate bill contain anything to differentiate between non-commercial and commercial usage, this would criminalize many types of usage and repurposing that are currently constitutionally protected. There is also a provision included at the behest of the pharmaceutical lobby under the guise of ‘protecting people from counterfeit medications’ that could actually completely illegalize buying any kind of medication from outside of the USA online, which will affect millions of people who currently use the internet to fill their valid prescriptions with cheaper generic medicines from Canada and other countries. While proponents of the act claim that the current lack of regulation on the internet is killing both jobs and the economy, the facts actually indicate quiet the opposite. According to research done by Remi Said with McKinsey Global Institute in 2011, the internet created 2.6 jobs for every job lost to it and and accounts for up to 21% of the GDP of developed countries.
Now, I have made some cases against this bill, but why is it really so important? Why is it imperative that we work not to restrict freedoms on the internet but to enrich them? Currently, the internet is a vehicle for the communication of information worldwide, a global network for data and ideas that can eventually connect all of humankind. While the web is limited to what you make of it, the resources it provides are vast and growing at an exponential rate. The ability of scientists and scholars to share their research with colleagues across the globe has served to increase the rate of technological advancement to a blinding speed, comparet to the pre-internet days. Through its various financial networks, the internet provides charitable donations in amounts that were unimaginable before, as both the amount of charitable donations and the percentage of those donations made by individuals have reached record levels. Connecting humankind across the globe has quite predictably (ask Ray Kurzweil) served to exponentially increase the rate of human development in many different ways. Unfortunately, we have created a system in which many of our largest businesses rely not on innovation, creativity, or the betterment of humankind to sell their product; instead relying on stifling their competition before it can start, spreading disinformation, and exploiting both customers and employees. It is these kinds of practices that are truly threatened by internet freedom, and it is well that they should be threatened as increased global awareness of their misdeeds will force them to either change their ways (bad for the profit margin) or go extinct. After all, it can easily be said that it was the internet that brought us the age of the socially/globally responsible corporation, and it is worth noting that these are the corporations fighting against these bills. So please, spread awareness of why this legislation needs to be defeated, share this and other articles and essays about why this is important, and contact your representatives and senators about why this is important.