This is a draft of a letter I intend to my senators and possibly the President. Any suggestions welcome.
As a constituent of Minnesota and a citizen of the Unites States, I urge you to oppose the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act).
This act, if it becomes law, would destroy many of the freedoms currently enjoyed by the American People. Often, we abhor such imposing laws when they are enacted in other countries such as China and Iran. We express fury over their laws imposing government control over what their citizens can and cannot access on the Internet. Why is it, then, that we are even contemplating such a law in America?
Hollywood studios, while having a right to protect their copyrighted material, support this damaging act. They wish to remove any and all infringement from the internet, but what this act could potentially do outreaches the initial reasons behind it. It would do more than simply remove copyrighted materials such as television show episodes, movies, songs, or books from the Internet. It could also lead to flagrant abuse by the government or Hollywood executives. It wouldn't be much different than a witch hunt.
This act would surely hamper and gag freedom of speech within this country. The Internet has been the ultimate realm of freedom of speech and expression since its inception. To squash that with this act would be revoking much of our rights in an open forum. Our right to speak freely, to assemble, and to express dissent would be severely hampered.
It is also possible that SOPA could expand beyond just the boundaries of the Internet. Other mediums could also face scrutiny and censorship---as this act surely invokes. Publishing of ideas would be centralized into fewer and fewer hands, not just on the Internet, but also in hard copy such as books. This would narrow the American People's access to critical information in a day and age where news travels almost instantaneously.
There are several reasons why this act would not only damage American ideals and rights, but fail ultimately in practice. First, the obvious example would be that of Prohibition. When this law had been enacted and enforced, it spawned many consequences. These would surely repeat in the digital world. The notion that somehow this act could end any and all copyright infringement is not only naïve but doomed to failure. Digital speak easys, so to speak, would only emerge.
We have seen this before. Napster faced heavy attack from the RIAA and endured a shutdown and reboot as a pay site. This did not stop others from copying the original Napster model. Instead, the RIAA's actions---in both lawsuits and site shutdowns---only forced these groups to go deeper into the Internet. No matter what they tried to do, they did not go away. Implementing SOPA would only face the same fate. For every Napster that is caught and gagged, ten to fifteen---if not hundreds more---would rise to take its place.
Not only did the site shutdowns take many resources and ultimately fail, but the RIAA lost public support for suing consumers caught downloading. The millions of dollars they sought in damages against everyone from college students to mothers to even twelve year old children themselves only created backlash. SOPA would surely end up facing the same scrutiny and anger.
SOPA, as written, also goes against Net Neutrality. If passed, it would surely shrink the base of power. Instead of many voices, a handful would remain. As Hollywood and its studios attack any and every infringement, putting pressure on the cable companies to yank access to sites, fewer and fewer forums would remain. It would narrow the scope of the Internet to a fraction of its current size.
Essentially, and possibly with intention, SOPA would create a monopolized Internet where only the chosen and accepted sites are allowed. This is no different than countries such as China blocking Google or Libya cutting off access entirely. The American People would be allowed only the information that is sanctioned by both the government and Hollywood. This cannot happen.
Political campaigns would be just as hurt by SOPA as the rest of the Internet at large. Campaigns, such as President Obama's in 2008, would not and could not happen under a SOPA Internet. The grassroots sites and forums created during that campaign would be easy to gag. It would take away a critical tool that has become imperative in the political process.
Innovation has been the brainchild of the Internet since its creation. Facebook. Twitter. Google. My Space. Email. You Tube. None of these internet institutions would have existed without the freedom to experiment and evolve with Internet users needs and desires. No technology has grown more rapidly than that of the Internet. To hamper that with an act such as SOPA would destroy that ability. Any of the great minds waiting to invent the next big Internet institution would hesitate, fearing that it might incur them lawsuits and face shut down immediately. If we are to lead in the world, we must allow our Internet to continue its lighting speed innovations. If we do not, we will fall behind our world competitors in global markets as e-commerce makes a large portion of the world economy today.
I currently pay approximately $150/month for my cable company for both my television and internet access. If SOPA were to pass, the amount of money cited here would become worthless. Access to broadband would no longer be worth the price that we, the consumer, currently pay. Hollywood speaks of piracy killing jobs---as it surely plays a role---but to force many to cut internet access due to a gag order would lead to even more job loss in the long run. People would no longer be aware of jobs or able to apply quickly as the current job market requires. It would stagnant employment, already struggling in the current economic climate. Strangling the Internet in this manner would further squeeze the middle class and poor---and impede any upper social mobility.
SOPA is dangerous, plain and simple. It cuts far too close to our bill of rights, strips away our freedoms, and hampers our ability to compete within the global economy. I urge you to oppose its measures.