Did you join in yesterday’s protests against SOPA? I didn’t, because I thought I couldn’t legitimately protest against proposals in American law, but the more I think about it, the more I consider I should in some way have joined the voices rising up against it. As this BBC article puts it, we are talking about something that would mean the USA deploying similar tactics to those used by China and Iran.
If anyone understands the effect of the Internet and social media on our society and the world, it’s Clay Shirky. Watch this video to hear why the proposed SOPA and PIPA legislation in the USA is dangerous for us all:
Here are the problems. There is a media industry that only wants us all to be passive consumers (how bad is that, anyway?). It does not want mere mortals to produce and to share content. This isn’t merely about copyright piracy, this is about enthusiastically saying to our friends, “Look what I’ve found” – something you would think they would be keen to promote. Already we are in a situation where bakeries cannot reproduce children’s drawings of cartoon characters onto cakes, because it’s illegal to copy an image of Mickey Mouse.
Thus, the industry wants to obliterate all established distinctions between legal and illegal sharing. It wants to make ordinary citizens criminals, alongside the pirates.
Furthermore, the proposed legislation reverses the historic burden of proof so that we are guilty until proved innocent, and if that’s not dangerous, I don’t know what is.
None of this is to condone piracy. As a Christian, I do not support theft of items for profit any more than I support burglars who raid a house and sell the items in the pub. But most of what ordinary people share on the Internet is not comparable to that. There is no financial motive.
In any case, there is ample legislation already on copyright piracy. The original Napster was brought to trial. So too was Limewire. What’s the problem? Shirky says the problem is effort. The media companies don’t want to bother with tedious matters like gathering evidence.
Neither am I completely against censorship. I am not a libertarian. As a parent, I have concerns about material my children could accidentally find on the Internet. But these bills are not about that.
And this affects us all, because the Internet by definition cannot be confined to one nation. If this legislation were to pass, the US Congress would be further codifying that terrifying concept of American exceptionalism, effectively allowing a digital American invasion anywhere and at any time.
I ask my American friends if they would lobby their elected representatives. For the rest of us, we need to find ways of legitimate and ethical protest, raising our voices in opposition to legislation that only has the interests of wealthy corporations at its heart.
You are welcome to try persuading me otherwise, but this sounds like laws bought by the millions of dollars of corporate lobbying, to favour its clients against ordinary people. Surely that’s wrong?