Let no one doubt the rabble rousing
power of the Internet.
Incited largely by Google and Wikipedia’s calls
to protect “free speech” online, millions of Americans
last week bombarded congressional representatives
to voice opposition to the House’s Stop
Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate’s PROTECT
Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). Both bills
were destined to be vetoed by President Obama
anyway, but the Netizen riot yesterday scared
enough elected officials that they probably won’t
even get that far.
So much for the millions of lobbying greenbacks
dropped by the Motion Picture Association
of America, Recording Industry Association of America,
NBCUniversal, The Walt Disney Co., Viacom, Time Warner
Inc. and others. Corporate media interests were shouted down
by the Web mob — and the entertainment industry was caught
flat-footed, without a Web 2.0 counter-campaign to make its
case about why new laws are necessary.
“You shut down Congress’s switchboards. You melted their
servers,” Wikipedia gloated, claiming more than 8 million people
looked up their representatives’ contact info on its site. The
free encyclopedia “blacked out” for the day in protest, though
savvier users could still access the articles.
But what are SOPA and PIPA for? Google and
Wikipedia gloss over this.
The legislation is designed to give U.S. copyright
owners a way to shut down foreign pirate
sites, which aren’t subject to the Digital Millennium
Copyright Act (DMCA), by blocking access to
their domain names. Period.
Arguing that these laws would result in “censorship”
of the Internet is akin to saying shoplifting
prohibitions are a restraint of free trade. Or suggesting
that criminalizing public sex acts curtails
a citizen’s right to free expression.
Yes, there are parts of SOPA and PIPA that are
troubling. For one thing they would allow the U.S. government
to demand that even the links to rogue sites be culled from
search engines, according to the Electronic Freedom Foundation
— a pointless measure that seems inappropriate.
But instead of trying to find middle ground, the “information
wants to be free” crowd is throwing the baby out with the
bathwater. So what if a few links to pirate sites are monetized
by Google AdWords? That’s the price of freedom, bub.
The Web masses have spoken. And so, for now, the pirates
are still free to sail the Internet without much trouble.