Recently, companies like Google and Wikipedia organized a blackout for an entire day to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that was being passed through the House of Representatives and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) being put through the Senate.
The media coverage for these events, combined with various protests and petitions generated enough bad press that many co-sponsors of the bills formally dropped their support for them. The vote that would have put one or both of these bills into law was cancelled.
The reason these bills caused so much of a stir is that they would give the government, specifically the Department of Justice, powers to shut down websites or prevent them from appearing on search engines if they are deemed to violate copyright law. The point of this being to protect artists, filmmakers or inventors from having their songs, movies and ideas pirated on the Internet.
I’m all for artists and inventors being able to generate revenue from their ideas. However, giving the government the authority to decide what websites get to appear on search engines or force your Internet provider to block other websites is not a justifiable means to that end.
Admittedly, the bills had been amended to only target foreign websites and narrow some of the criteria for sites subject to enforcement, but had SOPA or ACTA become law, the authority of the Department of Justice could expand over time until we were in danger of true censorship of the Internet.
Now us students here at Pierce should care precisely because we need the Internet and we use constantly in our daily lives. If, for example, a single user posts something on a blog, photo sharing site or something that infringes on some copyright or other, the government may be able to shut the whole site down.
Since the Internet is an open network for the free flow and exchange of ideas and information, it will always be accompanied by criminal activity of those who take advantage of and abuse that freedom. But the rest of us shouldn’t be punished for sins of that minority. Though I’m sure all of us have probably pirated a song or two, in large part people buy their content or at least rent it through Netflix or something.
It all comes down to how much liberty are you willing to give up for security and order. Innovators should profit off of their work so that they have an incentive to do more of it, but that doesn’t justify taking the first steps toward an Internet crackdown.