Us v. Them: Stop Online Censorship

January 18, 2012 7 comments

While today marks the day that all of your favorite sites (Google, Wikipedia, Reddit, etc.) have gone dark in protest of the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (PROTECT IP Act) bills that are being heavily shopped around congress, we here at Mostly Junk Food also have a duty to pass on awareness in any form. While many blogs hang in a limbo that prevents guerrilla tactics like a complete site blackout, the commotion isn’t simply symbolic. SOPA and PIPA are bills that, no matter what side of the aisle you find your seat, infringe upon your rights as an active member of the social-internet community.

My preaching can only go as far as the wood in my soapbox can hold, but the folks at Fight For the Future (non-profit) put together this video that says all, and more, than I could ever say:

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

This is not just a hindrance on convenience here. We all know where to get the newest leaks. Most of us know how to go about seeing episodes of our favorite shows for free. I’ve certainly got some skeletons in my WinRAR folder. But, regulation can’t come by complete government takeover, especially in a medium that is chiefly supported by user interaction.

SOPA: The Facts

From censoring search engines, to cornering domain names, to blacklisting specific websites, merely based on suspicion, the SOPA bill — originally penned as the CFSA, or Commercial Felony Streaming Act — carries the most direct (and consequential) verbiage of the two. Originally introduced by House Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), the proposal spends several pages hiding behind the guise of protecting against infringement on intellectual properties, counterfeit drugs, and a general initiative founded on the basis of total, web-based content control.

The thesis itself isn’t all too convoluted. As previously acknowledged, the internet is pretty much the Wild West of media sharing. Once a seed (read: file) is planted, its roots are forever entrenched in the infinite garden of the blogosphere. But, that’s the point. Rep. Howard Coble’s (R-NC) Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) from 1998 understood this, to an extent, calling for “copyright owners who felt that a site was hosting infringing content are required to request the site to remove the infringing material within a certain amount of time”. With SOPA, it’s do or die, moving to bypass the previous “safe harbor” provision — a.k.a the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 — by placing the responsibility for detecting and policing infringement onto the site itself, and allowing judges to block access to websites “dedicated to theft of U.S. property.”

What’s so offensive is that SOPA plans to revoke the checks and balances of a self-regulating internet, filtered by the people who know it the best, and pushes to replace it with the profit-guided hand of Hollywood and the U.S. Department of Justice. Which, essentially, denounces any legitimacy of sites that are doing just fine operating within the current rules and guidelines (present company included).

PIPA: The Facts

While SOPA is the blatant, amorphous piece of legislation that speaks the loudest on Capital Hill, it’s the PIPA bill that holds the most immediate treat. In less than a week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will bring the current iteration of the bill to a vote. The brass tacks of the bill (as elaborated in the above video) pretty much read as such:

The Protect IP Act says that an “information location tool shall take technically feasible and reasonable measures, as expeditiously as possible, to remove or disable access to the Internet site associated with the domain name set forth in the order”. In addition, it must delete all hyperlinks to the offending “Internet site”.

While both bills overlap on several aspects, PIPA is where the metaphoric triggers are pulled; hence its hasty delivery through Congress. PIPA goes for the throat with its stringent measures for domain names with DNS (Domain Name System) blocking and redirection, however, it’s the bill’s focus on domestic sites that most heavily imposes on our constitutional rights.

The lines get muddled when the language in the proposal turns to buzzwords like “facilitate” and “influence”. By the implied definitions, sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube are prime targets, and the inclusion of these stipulations suggests that social media and blogs could face consequences equal to, or more strict, than a multimillion-dollar company, simply based on a criteria that doesn’t, and could never, apply to all websites alike.

What You Can Do

Look, as far as movements go, this is the one that may define our generation. It’s a far cry from raising a defiant hand to a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square, but, at this very time, we can’t allow those tanks to leave base. Our government has proven that suspension of rights is not out of its realm of capabilities (*cough* Patriot Act *cough*), so time is of the essence.

American Censorship has a petition, contact information, and a template in place for anyone who is behind the cause. You can write your representative (or, if you’re outside the U.S., the State Department) and express your demand for a vote of “no” on cloture of S. 968, the PROTECT IP Act, on January 24th.

But, honestly, our best defense is to simply stay aware. There is much that is out of the public’s hands right now, but our voices are undoubtedly being heard, and we must use this time to get louder and stronger.

Mark Twain once said “Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak because a baby can’t chew it”. Let’s keep censorship out of our kitchen and tell Congress to “let us cook!”