Does Congress Really Want To Give China & Other Oppressive Regimes A Blueprint For Internet Censorship?
from the one-hopes-not dept
Rebecca MacKinnon, from the New America Foundation, has an absolutely fantastic opinion piece in the NY Times today, explaining why SOPA/PROTECT IP represent the Great Firewall of America, and why it’s the exact wrong approach. It notes that the bill doesn’t just bring the “major features” of China’s Great Firewall to America, but that it also strengthen’s China’s ability to censor. While she notes that the intentions are not the same, the “practical effect,” would be:
Abuses under existing American law serve as troubling predictors for the kinds of abuse by private actors that the House bill would make possible. Take, for example, the cease-and-desist letters that Diebold, a maker of voting machines, sent in 2003, demanding that Internet service providers shut down Web sites that had published internal company e-mails about problems with the company?s voting machines. The letter cited copyright violations, and most of the service providers took down the content without question, despite the strong case to be made that the material was speech protected under the First Amendment.
The House bill would also emulate China?s system of corporate ?self-discipline,? making companies liable for users? actions. The burden would be on the Web site operator to prove that the site was not being used for copyright infringement. The effect on user-generated sites like YouTube would be chilling.
I’d argue it’s even worse than that. We’ve already seen how countries like Russia have abused copyright law to stifle speech. Do we really want to justify that kind of activity? If SOPA/PROTECT IP is in place, any government around the world can put in place something similar, justify blocking access to just about any website by abusing copyright law to find some form of “infringement.”
In the hearings today, the MPAA’s Michael O’Leary somewhat stunningly suggested that repressive regimes that censor the internet are a model worth emulating in the US, since they didn’t “break the internet.” Perhaps he should speak to those who have had their speech blocked in countries like China and Iran to see how they really feel about that. And is he really comfortable setting up the same system here in the US? Is he convinced that it won’t be abused, despite the long history of abuse we’ve seen by the members of the MPAA? Just last week alone we heard a story about how MPAA member Warner Bros., took down tons of content it had no right to, including some open source software it just didn’t like.
Fact is: we’ve seen copyright law abused repeatedly, even by MPAA members, to stifle companies and speech they don’t like. We’ve seen how repressive regimes use the same tools in their countries to stifle speech. Setting up such a system in the US would be an epic mistake.