When the House held a hearing about a controversial bill, the proposed Stop Online Piracy (SOPA) act — which would give the US Justice Department new powers to clamp down on websites that host material with disputed copyrights — internet giants including Wikipedia owner Wikimedia, eBay, Google and Twitter protested strongly. According to the tech companies, the bill would create an “internet blacklist” that would promote censorship, eliminate jobs and squash freedom of speech as SOPA gives the US Justice Department the right to police websites both in the US and aboard that host material whose copyright is disputed. Even more, the US could shut down websites and also go after the companies that support them technically or through payment systems, such as Paypal.
The Senate has also introduced a version of the legislation, the Protect IP Act and the two bills have backing from powerful, and well-financed, sources: The United States Chamber of Commerce, the Motion Picture Association of America, the American Federation of Musicians, the Directors Guild of America, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Screen Actors Guild. But the tech community is protesting as such legislation would mean that sites YouTube would have to vet all content before allowing it to be posted online. Currently, if YouTube and other sites are found to have such copyrighted content without permission, they are told to take it down. The legislation would require that sites first check for such content and, if they do not, US authorities could simply block the website.
At today’s House hearing, Google’s policy council, Kathryn Oyama– who was the only witness against the legislation at the hearing — stated that SOPA “sets a precedent in favor of Internet censorship and could jeopardize our nation’s cybersecurity,” not to mention the tech industry’s innovation and the creation of jobs.
AOL, eBay, Facebook, Google, Twitter and Zynga all took out a full-page ad in the New York Times to protest the online piracy bills:
“We support the bills’ stated goals – providing additional enforcement tools to combat foreign ‘rogue’ websites that are dedicated to copyright infringement or counterfeiting. Unfortunately, the bills as drafted would expose law-abiding US internet and technology companies to new and uncertain liabilities, private rights of action, and technology mandates that would require monitoring of websites.”
Rebecca McKinnon, senior fellow at the New America Foundation and a founder of Global Voices Online, explains how SOPA and the Senate piracy bill could hurt political and civil rights.
Photo by antonella.beccaria
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