The Stop Online Piracy Act : Do We Need It?SOPA. What is it? Do we need it? Is it overreaching censorship or a necessary protection?
By: Rebecca Gilbert, Sibley Scribe
Recently the SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, has come to our attention with websites such as Google and Wikipedia taking stands against it. This act has been in existence since last year but has been making headlines recently with blackouts of top websites. On January 18th both Google and Wikipedia had blackouts. At Google, their logo was covered with a black censor bar and if clicked a query was entered into the search bar reading, “Tell Congress: these bills will kill jobs and censor the Internet!” And yes, this could end up being accurate. If websites have to spend more on jobs in order to police their users they will lose money and some, eventually, will no longer be able to sustain themselves.
But the act was proposed in order to stop on- line piracy since the media industry has been losing billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs because of this “piracy” – streaming of movies, music and written material from sources other than the original publisher or authorized sellers. With websites such as The Huffington Post and Reddit bashing this act, most assume that this act is not the answer. It’s important, however, to keep in mind that there are two legitimate sides to this debate and that all of these websites who oppose the act have an economic interest in doing so ; it affects their bottom line. If we break it down, the act essentially proposes that law enforcement have many new powers to prosecute websites that stream copyright material (intellectual property) such as movies and music, but it also proposes prohibiting search engines and online advertisers from even connecting with these sites. Essentially, then, these websites and search engines would have to police the actions of their users, and prohibit them from connecting. All of this would end up costing these websites and search engines more money, and many argue that it would violate the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech thus resulting in censorship.
The censorship side of this is a little more hazy, though. Yes, websites will be forced to check in on their users, not allowing some of them to post what they would be posting or download what they would be downloading or connect to sites they would otherwise be connecting to. However, this will definitely help curb the piracy that is going on throughout the Web, especially from foreign sources where online protection is particularly weak.
Proponents of the act say that we have to protect copyright material and intellectual property since it is a major competitive advantage for American business in the global marketplace, and we have to assure that the rewards for this intellectual property go to those who create it instead of to “rogue” websites that allow it to be downloaded for free. Opponents say that it amounts to online censorship and is a violation of the First Amendment. It would restrict innovation and prohibit internet users from accessing an entire internet domain just because it had connection to a violating website.
SOPA was proposed to stop the media industry from unjustly losing so much money and so many jobs, but the truth is, this industry makes billions upon billions of dollars every year and can afford to lose some here and there. And stopping SOPA may cause some people to lose their jobs, but what about losing the “free” internet, this vital source of infinite information, opinions, videos, artists, music. The internet helps so many people get their word out, be that music or art or political speech, and maybe stopping this act will curb the media industry a little bit.
We have enough censorship in our everyday lives ; let’s keep the internet free.