Wikipedia is participating in a 24-hour black out on Wednesday to protest the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). This law would allow copyright holders to use court orders and lawsuits against websites accused of streaming unauthorized content.
After a majority of congressional representatives voiced their disapproval of the bill, it was temporarily shelved in the House until a consensus could be reached. However, its sister counterpart, PIPA, has sneaked its way into the Senate, with little detection from opponents. Like the SOPA, PIPA would grant copyright holders the police power to monitor and block websites accused of infringement.
It is morally reasonable to argue in favor of these two acts because online piracy is illegal. More governmental action should be taken to make internet security stronger. However, allowing such a law to pass would be a danger to one's civil liberties. The web enables billions of people to freely express and communicate their ideas, but by silencing these voices, such a law would only discourage diversity and individuality. For that reason, I cannot show my support for this legislation, but I believe that there are alternative means of dealing with the problem.
If a law like PIPA is passed, many internet operators' websites like Facebook and Reddit could risk losing their user addresses instantly and indiscriminately without any kind of formal hearing. Both large companies and start-ups alike would be under strict scrutiny. Imagine the great societal ramifications of losing such web giants.
The central issue of the law is that it comes in conflict with our democratic ideals. The very foundation for our country would crumble if we did not have our basic freedoms to support us. Our society is so invested in the internet that denying individuals online privileges would disrupt our very way of life. Web-surfers can browse and research various subject matters through a number of different shared websites, blogs, and search engines. By slowing the circulation flow of information, individuals would be deprived of outlets for intellectual stimulation.
The music and film industries have expressed outrage over the matter, but they benefit from this exposure as well. Although they are not making deserved profits, their content is being showcased to others, building on their public image. This certainly should not justify online piracy, but artists gain notoriety, experience, and inspiration when their work enters this marketplace of ideas.
Although online piracy is a serious problem that demands the attention of the government, other approaches can be taken to remedy the situation. Google can be used as a model. Their company has taken the initiative to ending copyright infringement. They have invested more than $60 million in the fight against bad ads and removed over 5 million foreign rogue websites without asking U.S. companies to block them.
Censorship is never the answer, no matter what is at stake. Wikipedia is doing the right thing by protesting against this act. Freedom of speech and expression are necessary cornerstones of our society, extinguishing these would only stunt the intellectual progress that has been made.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons