The Polarizing effect of SOPA: What it is and why it divides us

SOPA is a hot topic.

Currently CEOs, powerful politicians, Hollywood heavyweights and average Americans all seem to be at odds over one issue (and actually I am not referring to Occupy Wall Street). SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act, is legislation intended to ensure that “our law keeps pace with infringers,” according to Copyright Office Director Maria Pallante, who openly supports the bill. She is one of the many who have and will testify before the House Judiciary Committee.

The Hollywood establishment, as well as other major content creators and holders, are pushing SOPA because they are tired of illegal and pirated materials cutting into their profits. After investing millions of dollars and valuable time to create and promote material, businesses, production companies, actors and authors are tired of seeing their pay-off diminished by websites which illegally post their content for free. They argue that by protecting content, Congress will be protecting U.S. jobs at a time when our country desperately needs them- after all, higher revenue streams mean greater growth and the ability to take on more projects, hire more employees, and keep our economy healthy.

Essentially, SOPA would enable the government to attack “rogue websites,” or sites considered copyright violators. The means for targeting these “rogue sites,” is the part of the bill which has instigated the most controversy, and its description inevitably includes a word which is usually considered anathema to Americans: censorship.

As citizens of the United States, we are usually unconcerned with the minutia of how our constitution functions, and instead simply enjoy the premium our culture places on our right to free speech.  The Bill of Rights explicitly states that our government must not infringe upon this right, and although there may be exceptions such as cases of libel or threats to individual and national safety, ultimately these exceptions are dealt with through legal prosecution rather than preventative measures. Therefore, our gut response to government censorship, even just the concept of censorship in general, is horror and resistance; but is that response appropriate in this context?

Pallante stated “There will be times when blocking access to websites may be the only quick and effective course of action and that providing this tool to the Attorney General is therefore a critical part of the equation. Likewise, I believe that search engines should be fully within the reach of the Attorney General and should be ordered in appropriate circumstances to dismantle direct hyperlinks that send unwitting consumers to rogue websites.”

However, Pallante’s description of an ‘effective course of action’ raises more questions, what about websites that serve as forums for millions of users? If one user posts pirated content will the entire website be blocked? How carefully are legislators considering the unintended consequences that SOPA might have?

While Pallante is welcome to present her opinion at the hearing, is claiming that opponents of the bill are not being allowed the same courtesy, “The House is holding hearings on sweeping Internet censorship legislation this week — and it’s censoring the opposition!… the bill’s opponents — tech companies, free speech and human rights activists, and hundreds of thousands of Internet users — won’t have a voice.” While the Motion Picture Association of America has been invited to testify, civil-liberties groups that have openly criticized the bill have not.

And while SOPA has some powerful support, the opposition seems just as strong, and is capitalizing on the ironic twist that the hearings fall on National Censorship Day. Some of the more recognizable Internet powerhouses are speaking out against SOPA, including Google, Facebook, Tumblr and Zynga. They argue that rather than fostering creativity and job creation, SOPA will suppress entrepreneurship. In their words, the legislation is “a serious risk to our industry’s continued track record of innovation and job creation, as well as to our nation’s cybersecurity.” Even presidential candidate Ron Paul has expressed his enmity toward SOPA.

Cory Doctorow writes that SOPA is “the worst piece of Internet legislation in American history.”

Yet politicians in favor of the bill have claimed that the rhetoric surrounding it is “hyperbolic,” and that “the notion that this bill threatens freedom of information is insupportable.”

So where do you stand? Does SOPA endanger industries based online and hinder free speech, or is it necessary to protect copyrighted material? Make your voice heard in our comments section, or join the ranks of constituents contacting their congress-people.

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One Response to The Polarizing effect of SOPA: What it is and why it divides us

  1. Rabinnh says:

    The Attorney General can unilaterally shut down Web sites without due process? Being a political appointee, that alone is a terrifying thought.

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