A Grave Issue Indeed

As an establishment that works to have an online presence, this is unsettling. The infrastructure of the internet is currently under threat thanks to the MPAA and similar industries with the Protect IP Act (PIPA) and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) Anti-copyright bills that if enacted would do more than prevent infringements, they could censor the whole internet.  The issue is not the protection of copyright, but the fact that these bills promote censorship. If passed many of the sites we use every day could be taken down and/or blocked from access.

Imagine trying to log onto Facebook, YouTube, Etsy, or a whole slew of other popular websites only to find their IPs have been blocked in the US, if the sites aren’t taken down altogether. If these bills pass it could be reality.  This blocking technique is already in use in countries like China, Syria and Iran for the sole purpose of censoring information from citizens.  There are ways around it, a system was developed to allow Iranians access to twitter during the election protests, but many of these methods lack strong security and could put users’ computers at risk.  The Safe Harbor provisions of the DMCA (which allow compliant websites to continue operating if they remove requested content), would be null and void, allowing for seizure and blocking without notice.  It doesn’t matter if the sites blocked are used by millions, and in many cases allow people form all over to stay in touch.  I know in the morning I usually check my personal Facebook and Twitter before I go to any actual news sites, and usually find important news from those services.

While movie studios and other parts of the entertainment industry claim it will help artists, they are dead wrong.  Jobs could be lost as social media  becomes derailed.  Sites that many of these companies use for promotion would be gone. Think of how many films have official Facebook pages, or use YouTube to play trailers and preview clips to entice movie goers.   How many labels upload music videos to these sites, how many artists use twitter to keep in touch with their fanbase. It’s modern, and now crucial, marketing and they’re ready to kill it to stop piracy, despite proof that serious piracy has been on the decline thanks to accessible, and perfectly legal means of entertainment.  Yes, thanks to services like Netflix and Pandora, illegal downloading has decreased. People who are pirating pirate very little compared to how much they spend on entertainment.

If anything, these measures could make it more difficult for independent artists to share their work and form an online presence. Online technology is a quick and easy way to expose your work to an audience. Musicians share their work, independent film makers use video sites to upload their films in hopes that they develop enough hype for national attention. If sites like Etsy are taken down, independent visual artists and craftspeople could lose their customer base.  Overall, the collateral damage would hurt artists in the name of protecting corporate profits.

Another reason to be wary is the potential for abuse. In September it was revealed that file transfer site HotFile is suing Warner Brothers (WB) for abusing the site’s anti-piracy tool, put in place by WB’s demands.  This tool was used by WB to disable many legitimate files as well as files that the company held no rights over.  WB has also been under fire for pirating anti-piracy technology, now there’s the pot calling the kettle black.  On the legislative end NBC/Universal is currently attempting to extort suppliers into signing “grassroots” support letters in favor of SOPA. Many of these companies are finding little support, as many artists and online companies have openly voiced their opposition. Sites like Google recognize the potential to use these bills to censor information in the name of  “copyright protection”.

What can be done? Politicians on both sides are opposing the bill, this is one of the few issues out there that is not partisan based.

You can call your senators.

Contact your Congressperson

Sign up to have Senator Wyden read your name from a list in an attempt to filibuster the bills.

Keep up with the news, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has great coverage, check out their twitter  too.

And of course, tell all your friends. This is going beyond mere “protection” of copyright by enabling censorship measures that could block major information sources.