It’s a sad state of affairs when our country’s internet might become more censored than China’s. Because that’s apparently the kind of plan that Texas senator and professional hypocrite Lamar Smith has in store for the country with his Stop Online Privacy Act bill. Thankfully though, our president along with those still looking out for our Constitution appear to have taken enough action to likely put SOPA down before it becomes law.
On paper, SOPA might initially seem like a good idea. That’s because much like every bill introduced in Congress, SOPA is couched in patriotic, agreeable language that ultimately tells the public nothing about its horrible insides.
If you haven’t been following the news and haven’t heard of SOPA, just pop those letters into Google and watch your screen explode with results. The bill proposes to end online piracy of movies, books, television shows, music, etc. by criminalizing the streaming/transmittal of such copyrighted content.
Now again, this might sound like a good idea at first. Online piracy is costing our country’s economy millions of dollars in taxes, not to mention even higher figures for those who produce the material. SOPA would likely impede a lot of it by way of the bill’s strict criminal penalties.
However, the trade off is far worse as passing it would undoubtedly change the way the internet is used forever, or at least until SOPA is repealed. The internet under SOPA would no longer be a place for the free exchange of ideas; rather it will become a commercial venue for companies to reap high revenue while leaving users with a world wide web more akin to a television set than the internet we know today.
How would SOPA do this? Before we get to that answer, it’s important to first discuss the way television works. Yes, I’m aware everyone out there knows how to work a television, but humor me. Television delivers content to viewers via a fixed one way path. It’s fixed in the sense that what we see on T.V. is controlled completely by the stations and studios that produce and broadcast the programming we see. In this sense, other than our ability to change channels, viewers have no control over the content that will appear from the television. The T.V. is a fixed medium in which corporations have full control of both the content and advertising that is transmitted. Sure, people can buy cable or spend money on getting premium channels like HBO, but in general everything that we see has been carefully vetted and controlled.
The internet as it is today, on the other hand is the exact opposite of television. It’s a non-fixed medium in which any user may create, post, and view the content created and posted by other users. It’s a medium in which corporations and the general public are on equal footing in terms of reach, in that anyone who has an internet connection can view both a commercial website or a person’s personal web page without having to pay anything extra to do it. There’s no barrier to entry, anyone can post anything, as long as it doesn’t violate our country’s law.
This is where SOPA comes in. If the bill somehow were to pass, the stiff penalties it carries would change the internet into a slightly more interactive television set. You see, SOPA would make it a criminal offense for anyone to post copyrighted material.
Copyright content is vast: it’s not just movies, T.V. shows, or music; it’s also pictures, poems, news articles, short stories, pretty much any type of content that can be created by people can also be copyrighted.
For example, if one were to change their profile picture on Facebook to an image of Optimus Prime from Transformers and the image is one that has been copyrighted by Hasbro, the current owner of the Transformers property, that Facebook user’s page could be shut down. And if everyone on Facebook did the same, under SOPA, all of Facebook could be shutdown too for copyright infringement.
YouTube, forget about it, that site would be down faster than a piñata full of hundred dollar bills at a birthday party. SOPA would also make it illegal for sites to even link to pages that contain copyright infringing materials. This means a search engine, like Google, could no longer bring up all the pages that it finds for us every day. Furthermore, even if someone were to try to go directly to a website with some infringing content, under the broad language of SOPA, internet service providers would be required to block access to those websites.
So what kind of internet would we be left with it SOPA were to pass? We’d be left with a television that we can type on. It would be an internet run by corporations, where any time we want content, we’d have to go directly to the only source that produced it. We’d have to suffer through their advertisements, registration requirements, and in all likelihood we’d also probably have to pony up some cash on top of it all.
The message here is a simple one: SOPA is bad for the internet. But of course, that’s just my opinion. Though in this case, I’d find it hard to imagine if anyone other than a corporation would disagree with me on this point.