18 January 2012

Stop Censorship

Did you visit Autistic Hoya earlier today? If so, you were redirected to a black page with information about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), both of which are currently in consideration before the United States Congress. I rarely pretty much never write about something not directly related to autism or disability on this blog, but today, I participated in the internet strike in protest of SOPA and PIPA along with internet giants like Wikipedia, Wordpress, and Reddit.

These bills are intended to protect copyrighted intellectual property from infringement -- which is a good thing -- but are so badly written that they remove two important existing protections:

1.) Websites that immediately remove infringing content upon notification are no longer protected from civil liability for having had infringing content. They can be targeted and taken down by the government.

2.) Websites that unknowingly have infringing content uploaded by users, or that have a small minority of infringing content along with mostly legitimate content, are also subject to removal and censorship if the copyright holder files a complaint with the Attorney General.

In order to protect themselves from civil liability or government censorship (blocked access to their domain names), websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube would need to censor every user uploaded post, link, or video, in order to avoid infringing on copyright or linking to another website that infringes on copyright. That flies directly in the face of the First Amendment, and the principles behind it -- freedom of belief, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press.

These bills also ignore the fact that people with enough skill could easily find ways to go around government censorship of websites or domain names, and still illegally download movies or music or other torrented files. Furthermore, tools like Tor, which allow users to browse the internet anonymously and securely by proxy, would be rendered unlawful. Tor is regularly used by dissident activists and journalists across the globe, including under totalitarian regimes, to circumvent government monitoring and censorship.

Not only will the bills create a multiplicity of ethical and legal problems both here and abroad, they will also be ineffective in actually stopping copyright infringement and pirating of copyrighted materials. If you are a U.S. citizen, please call, email, or write your Representative and Senators, and urge them to oppose SOPA and PIPA. If you are outside the United States, please contact your American embassy or consulate. PIPA will go for a vote before the Senate on 24 January 2012 -- that's this coming Tuesday. SOPA, contrary to some rumors earlier this week, is not dead or shelved, and will be considered for final markup again before the end of February.

SOPA and PIPA could cripple the internet. In November, nine technology companies, including Facebook, Google, and Twitter, signed a joint letter to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary in opposition to both bills. Under these bills, not only could websites like Wikipedia and Google be shut down forever, but even the websites of nonprofit organizations could have access to advertisers, payments, and donations permanently removed by the government and media corporations without any due process or court hearing whatsoever.

Watch the brief video below, and visit any of the links in this post to learn more about these bills and how you can take action against them.

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

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