Government Legislation Would Permit Censorship

Maya Sherne, Staff Writer

For years, the US government has faced pressure from  entertainment and computer software companies to stop online piracy.

Piracy is allowing people to own copies of companies’ merchandise for no expense, and for this reason, it is understandable that companies are pushing for these methods.  However, PIPA and SOPA deny an individual from their basic First Amendment rights, and censor their lifestyle.

On May 12, 2011, the Senate first introduced the Protect IP Act, a re-written legislation of the failed Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act of 2010.

If passed, PIPA would force Internet providers to block all websites that enable copyright infringement, as well as sue search engines, directories, and blog sites that contain “black-listed” information.

This bill could potentially force advertising agencies to remove advertisements from infringing websites, and companies would have power to sue any company that does not effectively prevent copyright infringement on their website.  It also essentially gives the government and corporations the right to seek legal action against any website seen as enabling copyright infringement.

The Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, was introduced on Oct. 26, 2011 to the House of Representatives.  Like PIPA, SOPA was built off of previous legislation that failed to pass, 2008’s PRO-IP Act.  SOPA is nothing but a black list made by private corporations and the U.S. government.

If passed, the Attorney General could seek court orders forcing advertisers, search engines, servers, payment processors, and DNS providers from relationships with infringing websites.  This would allow private corporations to target websites, that are allegedly breaking copyright policies.  The companies could then contact payment processors to cut off all payments involved with the website.

This legislation will also allow payment processors to cut ties with any website, as long as they provide evidence of the sites copyright violations.

Initially, the world’s technological giants supported these legislations under the Business Software Alliance, but these companies are now ensuring that PIPA and SOPA will not pass.

Online piracy costs the United States at least $100 billion annually, and nearly $20.5 billion from the movie industry.  Even the bills’ opponents agree piracy needs to stop, but instead of solely putting an end to online piracy, the Senate and House of Representatives have planned much more for these respective bills.

PIPA and SOPA are intended to curb online piracy facilitated by “foreign rogue websites.”  These sites would be those outside of the United States that host information.  These bills are essentially two versions of the same anti-piracy bill.

Current piracy laws allow owners of copyrighted material to take their material off websites that are not granted permission to display it.  PIPA and SOPA would enable owners to permanently shut down these sites, even for minor copyright infractions.

The greatest concern for these bills is how it will change our lifestyle.  Everywhere, everyday, everyone uses the Internet.  In 2010, the average American spent 39 hours a month on the Internet.  Encyclopedias, dictionaries, and newspapers have long been replaced by search engines, online newspapers, and social networking sties.  But what if this changed? What if you could no longer Google a question or watch a viral video on YouTube?  A world of answers is held in your hands, but what if that was no longer possible?

PIPA and SOPA allows government agencies and companies to hunt for any possible copyright violations.  This would make blog owners responsible for everything on their site including comments and advertisements.  If a blogger were to post an article on their site displaying a corporations’ trademark, the corporation is at liberty to sue if they do not like what is being said, and they could potentially block or shut down the site.

Secondly, these bills would grant legal action over anyone that has published copyrighted information without granted permission.  Singers covering songs on YouTube could face legal charges over a copyrighted song, and record labels would be able to take down any video using their music.

SOPA and PIPA are virtually a Pandora’s box of copyright regulations and infringement laws. Our culture is based on sharing information and sharing products, and these bills would potentially censor an individual’s freedom of speech and deny their right to freedom of expression.