PIPA and SOPA should help themselves to a hot cup of STFU

17 01 2012



Tomorrow, January 18th, 2012, the English language version of Wikipedia will go dark for 24 hours in protest of the so-called Stop Online Piracy Act currently being considered in the American Congress, and its equivalent PIPA in the U.S. Senate.

I must confess that while I have heard rumblings from the free speech crowd over the past six months or so, this was what prompted me to actually read up on it. After all, this blog is a tribute to my trips down the “Wiki hole” as one of my friends describes it – random click on links to articles within articles.

One wants to believe that this legislation is well-intended but misguided, but sometime you have to wonder. The online free speech advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation suggests that portions of both bills are worded to allow for corporations and government departments to shut down websites for highly subjective reasons.

Corporations with conflicting interests could use their newfound powers to stifle free speech if they so desire. An example they give is a cable television company who is also a local ISP (as many are) who blacklist a video sharing site because that site competes against the cable company for revenue. They could block the IP address for the video site, citing these bits of legislation, and basically hide behind the claim of “possible copyright infringement.”

Other companies could use it against open source software developers to snuff out competition.

Worse still, the anti-circumvention clause in SOPA could hinder free speech for a very important constituency, people who live in repressive societies without the right to free speech. So websites and services that allow for anonymous browsing could come under fire if these bills pass, because potentially the same sites could be used for piracy and copyright infringement. 

I heard someone on the radio today make an analogy to that point, stating (I’ll paraphrase):

It’s as if the banking industry told Congress, look, cars are used in committing bank robberies, so we should outlaw cars.

Important recent historical events such as the Arab Spring could not have taken place in the same way (or, some would argue, at all) if not for access to the Internet.

Racing to the Red Light fully supports Wikipedia’s decision to go offline in protest of the SOPA and PIPA legislation, and urges American politicians to resist these ill-conceived attacks on Internet free speech.