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Think the DMCA Is Bad? How About a Law That Starts U.S. Internet Censorship?

Internet censorship

We’ve written a few times before about the entertainment industry’s war against piracy, and the collateral damage that it causes. We’ve covered the U.S. government’s seizure of domains without due process, the government’s mistaken take down of 84,00 innocent sites, and attempts to push through a treaty with other nations that would, among other things, make it illegal to unlock phones. That was bad, but if a bill that is currently under consideration today is passed, things could get much worse.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is being heard today in the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. Likening SOPA to the start of a slippery slope towards censorship, some have called it the “Great Firewall of America.” As an op-ed in the New York Times indicated,

The bills would empower the attorney general to create a blacklist of sites to be blocked by Internet service providers, search engines, payment providers and advertising networks, all without a court hearing or a trial. The House version goes further, allowing private companies to sue service providers for even briefly and unknowingly hosting content that infringes on copyright — a sharp change from current law, which protects the service providers from civil liability if they remove the problematic content immediately upon notification. The intention is not the same as China’s Great Firewall, a nationwide system of Web censorship, but the practical effect could be similar.

Sound scary? We’ve already seen how the government can screw up, and take sites offline. The bigger issue involves the lack of due process, and the fact that tremendous power would be handed off to private corporations under the Bill. As one site has noted, a “copyright holder need only accuse a website of infringement, and the search engine, advertisement, and payment system would be cut off in five days. The DNS filtering would still need the involvement of the Department of Justice to get a court order, but again, there would be no need to prove anything to obtain such an order from a judge.” (IT World, SOPA sponsors deride criticisms as ‘myths’).

The DMCA is bad enough, leading providers to remove content first in response to any complaint, and ask questions later (or not at all). This sounds even worse. The sponsors of the bill are the usual bad guys, such as the Motion Picture Association of America, the Screen Actors Guild, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – don’t take our stance on this to mean that we support piracy. We don’t. Artists deserve to get paid for their work. But a bill like SOPA goes way too far, and would cause too much collateral damage. It might sound like hyperbole, but SOPA would be the first step towards Internet censorship for U.S. citizens. For tips on how to combat this, check out the website for American Censorship Day or Fight for the Future.