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SOPA and PIPA Legislation: Wikipedia and Other Sites Blackout in Response

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Why is the government trying to dictate the flow of Americans’ access to free information?wikipedia blackout
 

That’s exactly what current government-backed legislation is trying to do. 

If you tried to access Wikipedia yesterday, you were probably disappointed to find that it was blacked out in an effort to prove a point to Congress which is set to vote on a bill that threatens to shut down Wikipedia, Reddit.com, YouTube, and similar sites if they get their way.

The legislation doesn’t present a threat to user-generated sites, alone.  You may have also noticed the normally festive and creative Google theme was blacked out in an effort to protest SOPA and PIPA.

This crusade by some in Congress (i.e. Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas), brought about by Hollywood-based interest groups, is just the latest example of the overreach of government intervention that will hinder the flow of free information in the webosphere.

First of all what is SOPA?  SOPA is an acronym for the Stop Online Piracy Act. It's a proposed bill that aims to crack down on copyright infringement by restricting access to sites that host pirated content.  Their stated target is “rogue sites,” and to crackdown on the actions stated above.  But the current bill could have an effect on all websites and search engines. It's hard for U.S. companies to take action against foreign sites. So SOPA's goal is to cut off pirate sites' oxygen by requiring U.S. search engines, advertising networks and other providers to withhold their services.

To argue the first point, how does one define pirated content?  If you contribute information on a topic to a site such as Wikipedia, and link the source of that information, is it pirated?  According to my English lit classes, as long as you cite where your information came from -- no harm, no foul.

But, content groups like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and business representatives like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, argue that innovation and jobs in content-creating industries are threatened by growing Internet piracy.

Other supporters of the bill are waging this argument insisting online piracy is a real problem that harms the American economy, threatens jobs for significant numbers of middle-class workers and hurts some of our nation's most creative and innovative companies and entrepreneurs.

But their argument is contradictory.  If the legislation passes, a presumably equal or higher amount of jobs will be lost in the process from the shutdown of websites owned and operated by companies small and large.

What about the jobs to be lost by passage of the legislation, and loss to free flow of information and the rights entitled to every American by the First Amendment?

Brad Burnham, managing partner at the venture capital fund Union Square Ventures says this should be a concern when the Internet accounts for 21 percent of economic growth among developed nations, according to one study.

U.S. Senate candidate in Texas, Ted Cruz has stated on his campaign website, “The amazing innovations online are a product of a market relatively free of government regulation. In fact, the web is an example for the wider economy — that we should not trade innovation and vibrancy for stifling regulation.

If you shut down one site, you have to shut them all down.  And if you don’t, and you dictate what information can and/or cannot be accessed by Internet users, it’s censorship. And that is an infringement to the free speech rights of every American.

Even the White House has stated it would not support legislation that "reduces freedom of expression, increasing cybersecurity risks or undermining the dynamic, innovative global internet."

Clearly, even the Obama Administration understands the possible infringement to Americans’ rights this bill proposes.

The point those in the web community are trying to make is that all Americans have the right to free knowledge.  This bill creates a threat to that right, and the economy as a result.  

This is not an issue of intellectual property theft alone.  It’s an issue of limited government and free enterprise.

If the government can dictate this sort of action on businesses and the right to free speech, where does it stop, and will it?

For more of Alyssa's work on Philly2Philly - check out her article on the Philadelphia Catholic School Closings

Photo from ibtimes.com

Contact Alyssa Bonk at abonk08@gmail.com

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