On Wednesday, web giants including Google, Facebook, and Twitter joined the Tea Party in opposing the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). The bill, put forth by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), “would allow the government or copyright holders to obtain court orders to force search engines and online advertising networks to cut ties with ‘rogue’ websites using pirated materials,”according to The Hill. While pirating is clearly a problem for the U.S. entertainment industry, this bill would do little to help this sector of the economy. Instead, SOPA recklessly targets legitimate web companies for piracy, as well as effectively censors the internet by the U.S. government.
SOPA places blame on the law-abiding internet companies for piracy conducted by sites to which they are connected. While forcing Google and other internet giants to cut ties with websites that infringe on copyright laws seems like an easy solution, such a measure has other unintended consequences. This new bill would place restrictions on what internet companies are able to do, thereby hampering innovation by these and future enterprises. According to an e-mail petition run by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, SOPA will “hamper the pace of innovation as users, websites, and investors cope with the uncertainty of running afoul of one or more vague sections of copyright law.” The potential to impede economic growth is particularly worrying at this time of economic recession because “employment in internet companies is up 13% since the recession officially started in December 2007,” according to the Internet Innovation Alliance. SOPA is “fundamentally…about jobs,” according to a representative of the Motion Picture Association of America. But SOPA would not add jobs to the overall economy. Instead, it could possibly add jobs to the entertainment sector and most likely subtract them from internet companies facing lawsuits, especially those looking to create new products. SOPA would hurt the internet and computer innovation business through obstructing new ideas, which would result in a loss of jobs and revenue.
Critics of SOPA are also very worried about the power it grants the government to censor content on the internet. Google CEO Eric Schmidt did not mince words at a speech at MIT, outright calling the bill “draconian” and “censorship.” It is not censorship of illegally pirated materials that are really at issue here, but the government’s vague language on the subject. According to the BBC, because of the “vague language” of the bill, SOPA “could have a knock-on effect to websites that allow users to share videos and post blogs.” SOPA could basically act as an anti-sharing law that will discourage users to from blogging or posting their own thoughts on-line. Because of the unclear language set forth by Congress, the censorship will not be limited only to internet pirates, but also to legitimate sites and unknowing internet users.
With the vague language and unintended consequences of SOPA, clearly this is not the best way to put an end to internet piracy. Censorship is too big a risk for a country that prides itself on freedom of speech, and “reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself,” according to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart. Limiting innovation will not improve confidence about the U.S. economy. Instead, it will put us in a bigger rut. We already have other legislation in place that could combat piracy, such as copyright laws, if used correctly and forcefully. The introduction of legislation that places censorship in the hands of the government should be viewed as unconstitutional and at odds with the values Congress is supposed to be up-holding.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons