Tech protest against SOPA legislation is admirable

Tech giants are not giving into the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that is currently making its way through the United States House of Representatives or the corresponding Protect IP Act (PIPA) Senate bill that is scheduled to be voted on sometime next week. Google is highlighting its opposition to the bills on its homepage and Wikipedia shut down its English operations for the day, along with sites like TwitPic and WordPress.

The collective effort against SOPA/PIPA speaks to the gravity of the repercussions that these companies believe will ensue if these bills pass, mainly harms to innovation and freedom of expression. Content that could be at risk include live streaming of protests on private property, YouTube covers of pop songs and Reddit links to intellectual property. In essence, SOPA/PIPA further empower the owners of intellectual property, namely the entertainment industry, to shut down sites with court orders and lawsuits for mere “allegations” of copyright infringement, which can result in the removal of thousands of pages of information.

Critics argue that provisions within these bills could have widespread ramifications that harm the freedom with which the Internet is used.
Even with some provisions removed from PIPA last week, with SOPA soon to follow, the bills still represent a new level of government control over our information. Entertainment industry leaders like CBS, Viacom and Disney have already began profiting from the remaining provisions on lawsuits with sites such as for distributing Napster software and allegedly facilitating copyright infringement despite the fact that these firms were themselves on the frontlines of distributing Napster and other file-sharing software for almost five years.

The Internet is one of the most powerful tools that modern society has to increase communication and information flow between different classes of people – to bridge the “digital divide” in an unprecedented way. Piracy is a consequence of this but it is not so serious that laws like SOPA/PIPA are enacted. It seems clear that this is more an attempt by the Republican Congress to protect the privilege of wealthy copyright producers.

Our lives are increasingly led on the Internet and our photos and videos are often stored on the web. If SOPA/PIPA becomes law, it has the potential to shut down the sites which we (especially students) have come to frequent even because of just one alleged copyright infringement.

It is refreshing to see tech leaders like Google stand up against this law. It goes against the grain of a modern age where information is shared more openly and freely; where the Internet is at least one place where we aren’t inhibited by excessive regulation that favours the few at the expense of the many.

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