By Joshua Madden
I very seldom write opinion pieces against a specific piece of legislation, but consider this my first. Congress is currently proposing a bill known as SOPA (the Stop Online Privacy Act) in the House and the PROTECT IP Act in the Senate.
The stated goals of these pieces of legislation is to end online piracy – an issue that has been very important in my life, as I have made money from online development and have my articles ripped off the Lariat website all the time. Ending online piracy, however, is simply not what this piece of legislation is actually about.
What these pieces of legislation are actually about is giving the Department of Justice more power to enforce shutdowns of Internet websites that the entertainment industry opposes.
If passed, it will be able to federally prosecute people for copyright infringement (as in send people for prison for copyright violations – a rather scary precedent) and shut down websites accused of piracy without actually proving that they’ve violated copyright laws – a clear violation of due process. This legislation is being pushed for by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) so they can work with the Department of Justice.
The MPAA is a group that has been documented as giving preferential treatment to major film studios over independent ones and is led by Chris Dodd, a former senator who pushed through banking legislation while accepting preferential loans for himself from major banks. He also promised he wouldn’t become a lobbyist after leaving the Senate – only to turn around and become the head of a lobbying organization.
This is the group pushing for more power for the Department of Justice, a federal department led by the attorney general. Two of the past three attorneys general have been involved in scandals resorting from an abuse of power. These are people I would not trust with my trash, let alone the right to circumvent due process.
This is not a partisan issue – hardcore conservatives and liberals are against this legislation. Republican Rep. Paul Ryan and the American Civil Liberties Union agree this legislation is dangerous, and they never agree on much of anything.
The only reason anyone supports it is because of the lobbying efforts on the part of organizations like the MPAA. There’s a reason they’re trying to push this legislation through during the presidential election: They want people distracted and not talking about this issue.
When movie grosses are down and Netflix is on the rise, I don’t like the idea of giving the entertainment industry the ability to imprison people they see as having violated copyright laws. Keep in mind they don’t necessarily have to prove infringement before they can request a site be suspended or shut down.
There’s a reason copyright cases go through courts – each case is different and needs to be evaluated accordingly. Artistic criticism, for example, is protected, but sometimes it’s blurry as to what is and is not “fair use” for criticism. This legislation could, theoretically, let film studios shut down negative reviews of a recent film because they’ve “violating copyright.”
By the time it’s established whether or not it was a violation, the film is out of theaters. That’s a scary thought.
This legislation would change how the Internet works, how due process works, how copyright works, how the entertainment industry works and how the federal government works. It is dangerous.
Guess who else is against this legislation? Opponents include Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, LinkedIn, eBay, Mozilla Corporation, Roblox, Reddit and the Wikimedia Foundation, among others. As a friend of mine pointed out, it’s pretty much just every website people actually go to. They understand how dangerous this legislation is.
I would encourage you to contact your Representative/Senators and tell them that if they want to vote for this legislation, they have lost your vote in the next election. See who’s still “against online piracy” then.
Joshua Madden is a graduate student in information systems from Olathe, Kan., and is the Lariat’s A&E Editor.