It seems these days that Congress cannot conduct any bipartisan business except when it comes to limiting the freedom of expression, creativity and ingenuity of the American people.
There are two bills currently making their way through Congress. One of them is the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which has been introduced to the House of Representatives, and the other is the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property (PROTECT IP) Act, which has been passed in the Senate. These bills are being touted, by the bipartisan group of congressmen and women who support it, as a way to limit copyright infringement. But the law will give companies and law enforcement the authority to shut down and censor any website that they deem to be in anyway infringing on copyright laws.
The issue is that the acts are so vague in their language that they can be interpreted in many ways to prosecute almost anyone. The acts also do away with the safe-harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), and make websites like YouTube, Tumblr and Facebook responsible for ensuring that their users do not post infringing material. If they cannot regulate the millions of users that use their website, then the SOPA bill provides provisions for authorities to demand that ISPs block users from accessing these sites.
Since many of the sites that host user content cannot possibly regulate all of the content that users upload, this is essentially a death sentence for these websites in the U.S. The bills also make downloading, streaming or using copyrighted materials a felony, meaning that people who stream movies or music, use unlicensed media through Internet videos or make videos of themselves playing video games can be put in prison for up to five years.
The laws will be so overreaching that they will negatively affect virtually everyone who has Internet access. Many companies like Google, LinkedIn and Yahoo!, and organizations such as Mozilla, Wikimedia and the EFF have expressed their opposition for the bills. However, they continue to gain support in the House and the Senate as lobbyists like the RIAA and the MPAA pour millions of dollars into getting them passed.
However, a few members of Congress have stood up against the bills. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has put a hold on the PROTECT IP Act, but such efforts won’t last long. If you want to defend your rights to free speech and want to be able to access websites without the fear that they will be censored, write to your local congressmen and voice your opposition to the bills.
Remind them that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” as stated in the first amendment.
Syed Fahim Adnan is a senior majoring in biochemistry.