I work a full time job. So does my wife. We don’t go out very often and for the most part we are responsible with our money. Our regular wages aren’t always enough to cope with all of life’s surprises. Luckily, I am fortunate enough to find work on the side as a freelance writer. It can often mean long nights and busy weekends, but it also means that when the heating bill shows up (as it did last week) that we can have money set aside to pay for it.
All of my extra work is done over the internet. The work isn’t always regular, but it’s consistent enough for my family to get by, a luxury many less fortunate might envy. Soon, this might not be the case anymore. Many of the websites and publications that I find my work through may soon be fighting for their very survival.
Moving quietly through the floors of the House Judiciary Committee is the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. The proposed aim of SOPA is to give the government and copyright holders more control over the internet in order to stop so-called “rogue websites” who illegally post copyrighted content. SOPA, sponsored by Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), has received substantial support from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) both of whom have seen a substantial decline in profits and relevance in the age of the internet.
The issue of internet piracy is a real one but the powers that would be granted by this bill are terrifying. While supporters insist it would only be used to block foreign websites exploiting American properties, the vague language of the law will grant the government and corporations the power to censor the internet. No evidence of wrongdoing would be necessary. The mere accusation of piracy would be enough to ban a website regardless of guilt. Website owners would be given no opportunity to dispute the allegations.
Aside from the fact that is the same sort of censorship currently employed by China and Iran, this law could make the internet almost unrecognizable. Almost a hundred of the internet’s founders and engineers have written to Congress telling them that the system proposed by SOPA could “destroy” internet security. Rather than heeding their warning the House Judiciary Committee have instead labeled those trying to fight the bill as being pro-pirate. Counted amongst the “supporters” of piracy: Google, Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr, Reddit, Zynga and many more.
Members of the Judiciary Committee have admitted to not knowing how the internet works and yet have ignored calls for outside consultation and study. The question that immediate comes to mind is, why?
The optimistic answer is that they really think they’re doing good. The more likely answer however, is money. The MPAA and RIAA are powerful lobbies and well-entrenched in Washington. Both groups would stand to gain a lot of power if SOPA passed. They could silence many of the legitimate online competitors that have been stealing their business simply by screaming “piracy.” If SOPA passes they could stand to make a lot of money.
Perhaps a few politicians will as well.
The losers won’t be the “evil” copyright infringers. It will be entrepreneurs, artists, musicians and freelancers like myself. Average Americans who have used the internet to find an audience for their art, sell new products, and create jobs. Our work will forever forward be performed under the shadow of the fact that if someone we’ve never met takes offense, we could lose everything.
For more information on SOPA and how to contact your congressional representative visit:
To see a few faces this legislation could effect visit:
(Yes, my picture is there. No, I didn’t have any better ones to use.)