What’s my name? Censorship.
This year I have had a front row seat to some of the most exciting breaking news stories from around the world as they were unfolding. On blogging and social networking websites such as Tumblr, Twitter and LiveJournal, I watched as the Occupy Wall Street protests began and spread across the country. As the events happened, I read firsthand accounts and saw pictures and video. I closely followed the revolution in Egypt. I saw commentary on the riot following Joe Paterno’s firing shared with tens of thousands of users in a matter of minutes.
These websites can keep residents of rural Nevada as connected and involved in world events as those who live in the largest metropolitan areas.
But social networking websites aren’t just used to share news, plan events and express opinions. They are also used to post songs, film clips, artwork and other copyrighted material. And therein lays the problem, according to the United States government.
In May, the PROTECT IP Act (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property) was introduced in the Senate. Its goal was to allow the government to work with copyright holders in attempts to prevent U.S. citizens from accessing websites that allow the sharing of copyrighted material. The bill was passed but put on hold.
In late October, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was introduced to the House of Representatives. This bill, building upon the PROTECT IP Act, aims to fight websites outside of U.S. jurisdiction that allow access to copyrighted material in addition to increasing the penalties for “intellectual property theft.” A hearing was held last week to review SOPA.
Essentially, these bills are not specifically designed to censor citizens’ communications about politics. But in their quest to eradicate the internet of any feral Family Guy clips or Katy Perry mp3s, they will end up doing just that—shutting down websites that many rely upon for staying abreast to news that isn’t necessarily covered in the mainstream media.
And really, having to spend time in jail for posting a video of yourself dancing to a popular song is a little excessive, to say the least.
I understand that piracy is harmful. I sympathize with the artists whose work is shared online without their consent. However, I also understand that the world is changing. Try as it might, I don’t believe the government will be able to fight the internet. Shutting down websites or censoring content just because some posts include copyright violations will not solve the problem, and it is not worth the cost.
It is unbelievable that entertainers’ desire to make money from DVD sales should outweigh U.S. citizens’ rights to send and receive information about current events. Record companies, movie companies and others could not have anticipated the progress that the internet would make in just a few short years, and they did not take its explosion into account when making business decisions. They have still not adapted. We are now left in a strange transitional period with little legislation to regulate the internet’s operations, and entire industries desperately need to restructure to adjust to this new world.
But until then, it is very unwise for the government to take away means of communication and information sharing that its citizens have adopted. For the government to seize the power to block websites and control what information to which its citizens have access is disturbing.
The internet does require more regulation. I’m sure that pieces of these bills will make their way into our laws sooner or later. But, if they are passed in their entirety, more people will suffer than just those in the entertainment industry.
Rihanna will just have to take one for the team.