The US is proposing legislation that will undermine the freedom of sites like Facebook, YouTube and Wikipedia. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is the biggest threat to free speech on the Internet ever.
SOPA would give US courts the power to take down any website accused of practicing or aiding piracy. Whilst this might seem like a good thing, critics allege that the legislation has been too broadly worded, leading to draconian shut-downs of any site that studios and record labels didn't like.
The SOPA legislation is THE MOST EVIL proposal for the Internet since its invention. It would make all website owners liable for all content posted on their sites. That means that if someone posts a libellous Facebook message about someone else, Facebook would be liable. If someone posts an inaccurate Wikipedia entry, Wikipedia would be liable. If someone uploads a pirated YouTube video, YouTube would be liable.
This is like making the Post Office liable for what people send in the post, or BT liable for what people say on the phone. It's absolute nonsense. In the words of blogger "memcpy", who has written a summary of the SOPA legislation, "SOPA is disguised as an anti-piracy bill ..... The bill is, in actuality, designed to obliterate free speech on the internet and allow media publishing companies to commercialize everything." (You can also view a 2-minute video summarising SOPA here.)
The legislation means that if a website infringes copyright, ISPs will be required to return an empty response if the web address is entered into a browser. The risk of being taken offline and facing mutli-million pound lawsuits would mean that sites like Facebook, Wikipedia and YouTube would cease to operate as they do now.
In their place, you can expect to see corporate-sponsored sites which replaced freedom of speech with marketing messages. Coming to a computer-screen near you in the very near future if this legislation gets through!
Many big names have spoken out against these proposals. In an open letter published in several US newspapers, the founders of Google, Flickr, Yahoo, YouTube, PayPal, Wikipedia, Twitter and eBay wrote that the legislation would "give the US government the power to censor the web using techniques similar to those used by China, Malaysia and Iran". Facebook, AOL, Mozilla, LinkedIn, Sony, Electronic Arts and Nintendo also oppose the legislation.
You may think this legislation won't affect you because it's in the US and we live in Britain - but US prosecutors are already applying for extradition orders against British citizens for breach of US copyright. If they are successful, British student Richard O'Dwyer faces a five-year prison sentence.
Mr O'Dwyer hasn't been to America since he was five years old, his website was hosted in the UK and he has never posted any copyrighted content. But because his site allowed people to find copyrighted content on other sites, the US think that he should be sent over there and jailed. That is not even a criminal offence in the UK, the country of his birth where he lives.
SOPA would make breach of copyright a felony under US law, making such extradition orders easier to enforce. The penalties are completely disproportionate to the "crime". In 2009, a US court awarded $1.9 million in damages to record companies against a single individual for downloading 24 songs. It is inconceivable that the record companies suffered losses of almost $80,000 per song.
HERE'S THE MOST SINISTER TRUTH OF ALL!!
The media companies who have to date spent over $100 million lobbying in favour of SOPA have also been encouraging people to pirate their content, distributing pirating software and explaining how to use it to breach copyright for over a decade! This video makes very interesting viewing, if you can stand the annoying presenter (like Michael Moore on speed).
Yes, that's right, companies like CBS, Disney, Warner and Microsoft have been actively encouraging pirating of their own material for years. In some cases, they were simultaneously suing other organisations whilst using their pirating services. CBS even has a website, CNET, which promotes downloading MP3s and has a search engine that enables users to do it.
Why would they do that? Firstly, because they have made hundreds of millions of dollars from doing it, and secondly because it enables their lobbyists to create the impression with US legislators that there is widespread copyright infringement in order to gain control over what is broadcast on the Internet.
There is a glimmer of hope here - this strategy could just backfire, because by promoting the software to enable copyright infringement, the companies could find themselves liable, not only for their own copyright infringement, but for the loss of income to the artists whose content they were allowing to be pirated.