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.

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  1. icon
    Just John (profile), 16 Nov 2011 @ 7:59pm

    Re: IF I say "yes", will you explain China's growth despite oppression?

    Dear Mr. Out Of The Blue,

    You just lost any and all right to speak to anyone of sensibilities, because you just proved that you do not in fact understand China and the way it works.

    So, lets start off by letting you know who I am.

    I am an American, currently working in Taiwan for a Taiwanese company. Because other parts of my company are also in China, I too travel to China and regularly interact with Chinese nationals.

    So, lets review how flawed your argument is.

    You claim the economic growth in China represents a flourishing of China, even with a repressive government.

    While you can point to the GDP for this information, you are not looking at the entire picture.

    The average Chinese does in fact live like they are still in the 19th century.

    The workers are grossly underpaid compared to the cost of living. In Shanghai, the most developed and international city in China, the cost of living is more expensive than most cities around the world, and the income level is much lower (Average of about 2,000 RMB per month, equivalent to $315 USD).

    Most companies will employ severe methods to control workers. Please feel free to do some research in the Foxconn suicides. Companies use threat and coercion to deal with employees, and some (Normally those for the lowest level of labor) at times fail to pay employees or pay them less then owed.

    In China, you will find that the socio-economic gap between the wealthy and poor are even worse than those found in the US. Even if you do a per capita breakdown of the second largest economy in the world, you will find that the per person breakdown, if wages were actually evenly split among all, is still lower than every other first world country. Remember, they have 1.3 billion people, not the US 300 million.

    The average employee, in fact, due to their poor pay rates, cannot afford things such as health insurance and quality housing.

    If you want to see this information first hand, from China, please feel free to go to the translate engine of your choice and read how Chinese actually live. I will avoid the "repression" of the great firewall of China for now because I have already pointed to enough with this post:

    Teachers in rural areas make less than 1000 RMB per month (Less than 160 USD per month)

    Housing prices have caused many "Migrant workers" (Migrant workers are those who come from rural areas or smaller areas in China to the major cities like Shanghai)

    A young Chinese girl working in a brick factory to help support her family:

    A 16 year old girl will be married to a 32 year old man when she reaches the age of 18 so their families can better cope with their poverty by combining resources:

    I could keep going if you wish, but it gets rather depressing when you actually understand what you are talking about and the truth of what is going on. The truth that the great firewall of China tries so hard to block.

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