SOPA, PIPA, and Why We All Must Care About Our Free Internet Rights

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A few weeks ago I wrote the U.S. Congress a letter voicing my objection to the proposed SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) legislation and have since determined that similar bill PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act) is an equally bad idea. If passed, SOPA will work in conjunction with PIPA.

Both SOPA and PIPA represent a step toward an Internet where the U.S. government and giant corporations have the power to determine what you see when you Google something or type in the URL of a website they don’t like.

Do these bills sound ominous? They are.

Understanding PIPA

PIPA allows intellectual property owners (basically movie studios and record labels) as well as the government to take legal action against a website if they determine that the site is publishing copyrighted content.

If PIPA becomes law, ISPs (Internet Service Providers) will be forced to to block access to blacklisted websites, those websites that these corporations say are displaying or disseminating copyrighted material.

Further, corporations will be able to sue search engines or any websites that share these blacklisted websites with the public. Advertisers will be forced to stop doing business with these blacklisted sites.

Understanding SOPA

SOPA gives the government the power to force search engines, advertisers, DNS providers, servers and payment processors from having any contact with any blacklisted websites. If SOPA becomes law, corporations will be able to create their own list of websites they believe are breaking their copyright policies.

These corporations will be able to directly contact a website’s payment processors (like Visa and MasterCard) and tell them to cut off all contact with the site. If they don’t comply, they can be sued.

These payment processors will be able to cut off all business with the website, as long as they can provide a reason why they believe a website is violating copyright law.

Why You Should Care

In a word, these are awful bills.

PIPA and SOPA allow the government and corporations to look for any possible copyright violation on any website they don’t like and shut it down.

Also, these bills make the owners of websites responsible for all the content on their sites, including comments.

The resources it would take for websites to self-police themselves would be astronomical. In many cases, it would shut websites down. SOPA and PIPA would censor almost all social networks and stop new technology from being developed.

One of the worst aspects of these bills is that it lets corporations take these actions without any judicial oversight. A corporation only has to send a letter which states that the targeted site has displayed its copyrighted material illegally. Once the search engine, content provider, or payment provider receives a letter, they would have five days to act or risk being sued.

Losing Steam?

Many high-tech companies, although initially supportive of the two bills, have come out against them. Google, Ebay, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, Twitter, Wikipedia, Craigslist, and others have come out strongly against the bill.

In fact, Wikipedia was among several websites to shut down last week in protest of the bills, though it is back up and running now.

Perhaps most positively, several lawmakers have since lessened their support for the legislation. Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who was an initial co-sponsor of PIPA, reversed his position and wrote on his Facebook wall:

“I have decided to withdraw my support for the Protect IP Act. Furthermore, I encourage Senator Reid to abandon his plan to rush the bill to the floor. Instead, we should take more time to address the concerns raised by all sides, and come up with new legislation that addresses Internet piracy while protecting free and open access to the Internet.”

Now is the time to act, and PRIVATE WiFi urges everyone who values openness on the Internet and opposes censorship to let your congressperson know that you are against both SOPA and PIPA.

 

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Kent Lawson

Kent Lawson is the CEO & Chairman of Private Communications Corporation and creator of its flagship software PRIVATE WiFi. He combined his extensive business and technical experience to develop PRIVATE WiFi in 2010. The software is an easy-to-use Virtual Private Network (VPN) that protects your sensitive personal information whenever you’re connected to a public WiFi network. Follow Kent on Twitter: @KentLawson.