This is an awesome overview by Thomas Doane of how to stop the new SOPA law that is being proposed in Congress right now to destroy free speech. This law is exceedingly dangerous to freedom of speech for a number of the reasons that Thomas discusses below. It is also why I had another point of view come in to discuss the topic more in-depth.


SOPA: An Awkward Attack on Free Speech

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is going to be voted on later this month when Congress resumes from its winter break. Supporters of the bill include old-school media companies like record labels and movie studios while those in opposition include Internet-based companies like Facebook, Google, and AOL. Though it may be a little simplistic to draw lines between analog and digital companies, it does provide the easiest means to determine who’s who in the battle for Internet free speech.

One of the primary foundations of the United States is free speech, making it an irreplaceable aspect of our country’s DNA. Though SOPA was created with well-meaning intentions, if carried out it could impact not only online piracy but also legitimate businesses ranging from social networking to online stores – even SEO firms could conceivably be affected by this poorly planned piece of legislation. All hope is not lost, however. There’s much that you can do to stop this bill from becoming law and giving the Internet a death sentence.

Why Free Speech Matters

The founding fathers saw fit to make the First Amendment to the United States Constitution exclusively about prohibiting the federal government from interfering in any citizen’s freedoms:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Freedom of speech doesn’t just mean that you get to say whatever you want (there are actually limits: explicitly inciting violence through speech is not protected, for instance). It means not being persecuted for expressing your beliefs. At first glance it may not seem as though SOPA threatens free speech; while it’s true that the stated intentions for creating the bill were not to inhibit free speech, that is exactly where it will lead if followed to its logical conclusion.

Intentions of SOPA

SOPA was created to reduce or eliminate the ability of people outside the United States to infringe on US copyright holders’ property. It will give the US Department of Justice and copyright holders–such as members of the MPAA and RIAA–the ability to close websites that link to or provide illegally obtained copyrighted works. Intellectual property piracy runs rampant on the Internet, with cracked video games and ripped movies and music available on thousands of different sites. There’s so much piracy that it’s impossible to reign it in by going after individual sites, so lawmakers have found a way to go after companies like Google, through whom most people find and gain access to infringing sites. Their hope is that by eliminating access to these sites they can eliminate any incentives for the infringers to conduct their operations.

Repercussions of SOPA

Though the intentions are honorable, the way the bill is worded is nebulous and allows for far too much control over the content of the Internet by copyright holders. It forces any company that hosts information, particularly information submitted by users, to police all of their content, evaluating every link to ensure that no one can unlawfully gain access to copyright-protected material via their services. Further, it allows rights-holders to demand that payment providers and ad networks (such as PayPal and Google AdWords) end their involvement with any infringing sites. The primary problem is that these companies are affiliated with so many websites that they would not have the money or manpower to investigate every claim by copyright holders to ensure that their demands were legitimate. This would, in turn, force them to comply with every order by the DOJ and rights-holders, effectively allowing any copyright holder to make a claim against a website for any reason and couch it in terms of defending their copyrights.

Furthermore, social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, would be held responsible for any content or links posted on their services. Even a link to a YouTube video of a television clip by an unauthorized poster could be considered in breach of copyright, forcing these sites to either harshly censor their users or shut down completely. That would not only affect citizens’ free speech but also make it nearly impossible for businesses to engage in any form of social media marketing or outreach. The possible effects of SOPA are so far-reaching that it’s almost impossible to understate the impact it could have on our wired culture or predict where its influence will cease.

What You Can Do

While many companies have spoken up in support of SOPA, companies founded in the Internet era are almost entirely against it. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Wikipedia and Etsy have all prominently displayed their commitment to ensuring that SOPA does not pass by threatening to shut down their sites–likely on January 23rd, the day before Congress resumes–in protest of the bill. While you most likely aren’t in control of an influential Internet-based corporation, there’s still something you can do. Head over to Stop American Censorship to learn more about SOPA and the similar PIPA bill and find out what you can do to help prevent them from crippling or killing the Internet.