I spent January 18th offline, silent on Blogger and Twitter and Facebook, in honour of everybody trying to do their part to protest SOPA and PIPA, propositions that could, given that people are people and often foolish, do terrible damage to free speech and online content.
In a nutshell, for those who don’t know, the proposed acts state that if a site has pirated or illegal content, it can be shut down at the source. This is ostensibly to cut down on Internet piracy, but does serve a darker purpose. By “at the source”, I don’t mean that one blog with illegal content will get shut down. No, I mean that the blog’s host can get shut down. Or blocked from search engines.
Who decides that the content is illegal? The owner, of course. As it should be. But shutting Blogger down because one blog linked to a pirated book is not the way to go about rectifying the issue of piracy.
Especially because, humans being humans, pettiness occurs. The acts allow for perceived misuse as well as legitimate misuse. If I write a bad review of a book and use a quote from it to back up my point, and the author takes exception, they have the right to take action. Not against me. Against my blog’s host. Essentially shutting down millions of perfectly legitimate blogs not because of one bad egg, but because one person had a hissy fit.
Now, I want to state that this sort of thing is unlikely, and there are things people can do to fight back if something ridiculous like that actually happened. People have tons of rights under the law that 90% of the time they don’t take advantage of or push as far as it can go because the effort of doing so outweighs the benefit, and I fully expect that if SOPA passes, the very same thing will happen. Less shit will get stirred than people expect.
But the face that the law, as written, would allow that to happen is what is so threatening. Many people see it as censorship, or a sort of proto-censorship in that nobody is being censored yet but could end up being.
I disagree with online piracy. I don’t think that SOPA will, in practicality, be as devastating as a lot of people are claiming. (I highly doubt it will lead to a shutdown of the majority of Internet sites within a month, as I’ve seen some claim.) But I do support their efforts to stop the proposition in its tracks, because of the implications. It amounts to the fact that even if freedom is only threatened, people have a right to stand up and say something about it. I do not take threats lightly, and that is why I was silent yesterday, and why I write this now.