Earlier this week I discussed how SOPA and PIPA, if passed, would censor the Internet by blocking access to websites that are accused of hosting copyright-infringing materials. Today I want to talk about how these bills are also an assault on free speech.
You might not think these laws would affect you. After all, you’re not pirating movies or running websites with user-generated content. But let’s look again at that bullet point from the Entertainment Consumers Association:
It strips current laws by now making internet companies, which used to be immune, liable for their users’ communications. This means that Facebook, Youtube, WordPress, Google and more are now on the hook for what you post.
Now put yourself in the shoes of one of these companies. If any one of your millions of users posts a copyrighted photo, a music video, a scene from a movie or TV show, or even links to another site that hosts one of these things… You could be shut down and liable for astronomical sums in damages. What’s the most logical thing to do? Prevent users from posting things, of course.
Well, that kills Facebook, Youtube, WordPress, Google (via WordPress and Google+), LinkedIn, Twitter, Reddit, and virtually every other social media site or service online. Message boards? Gone. DropBox? Gone. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if it killed online e-mail services; after all, e-mail can be used to send links to pirated materials.
Now put yourself in the shoes of an important person who doesn’t like what people are saying on a given website. Under these laws, all it takes is an official copyright infringement complaint, and that website is gone. Don’t like the site broadcasting news of the Occupy movement? Point out that they don’t have the official written permission to show the news footage of the protest. Want to keep your people ignorant of your human rights violations? Claim the site pirated your copyrighted images. (It doesn’t matter if they did or not; all it take is an accusation to get them shut down, and the probably don’t have the lawyers or money to prove the accusation false.)
Censorship is a slippery slope.
Google’s got a petition up today. I’m skeptical of petitions–especially online petitions–doing any good. But it’s Google, so I’m sure they’ll get thousands and thousands of “signatures,” most of which are not “Mickey Mouse,” which will at least make it awkward for politicians to continue to ignore their constituents.