Don't panic, but Congress might delete your Facebook
Friday, December 16, 2011
- Lucy Wang
Cross your fingers and hope that President Obama has his head screwed on straight. A new hot button bill in Congress, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), aims to swing the ax on online copyright infringement. But watch out for that pesky "side effects include" clause.
True, we need to amp up our protection of intellectual property. Too bad that the only way Congress can figure out how involves letting corporations blacklist Web sites accused of copyright violations.
SOPA, currently being debated in the House, would shut down Web sites accused of copyright infringement. Search engines that didn’t block the site would be punished. Even legitimate and influential sites like Google, Tumblr, Facebook and YouTube would be crippled. Sounds like China, right? But it’s America–it would impact us.
The Pirate Bay, Mediafire, BitTorrent, Megaupload -- gone. What’s the Internet without them?
If I covered a song by Coldplay and posted it on YouTube, Capitol Records could allege a copyright violation and have YouTube shut down if my video wasn’t removed in five days. Oh—and I’d get a little jail time to ponder the magnitude of my sins.
But don’t panic. Obama says he’ll veto the legislation if it ends up passing. I don’t think he’ll go back on his word, seeing as the bill is hugely unpopular and wouldn’t help him in the upcoming 2012 elections.
A related bill, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), has been put on hold after passing in the Senate. PIPA would let the government issue a court order against, and effectively drop an invisibility cloak on, Web sites accused of copyright infringement. The site would disappear from search engines, online advertising, etc. So, basically: Avada Kedavra.
Despite that, Protect IP is an easier pill for the Internet to swallow. Its criteria for a punishable site are much more limited than SOPA’s. Still, it works with SOPA to blast online creativity and expression to smithereens. An alternative solution? Cut off the illegal site’s sources of funding instead of blocking the site.
Lawmakers who support this less harsh solution have another idea, too. They suggest that SOPA ease up on general copyright violation, and focus on tackling the immediate problem: foreign sites selling illegal goods to America (for instance, Swedish-based site The Pirate Bay). These senators believe that this is an international commerce issue. We just need to adjust trade laws to keep up with the Internet economy.
These senators have come together and written a proposal called, "Fighting the Unauthorized Trade of Digital Goods While Protecting Internet Security, Commerce and Speech." A mouthful, but less of a choking hazard.