By Colin DuRant
As a responsible citizen, I would be remiss to assert that Internet piracy of music, movies, books, software and other forms of media can be considered an acceptable practice. Piracy refers to the unauthorized use of another’s production, which can readily be translated into a simpler definition: theft.
Debates about freedom of information and media aside, piracy constitutes stealing the intellectual property of another individual, and when something is stolen, money is lost. When money is lost, people become angry and sometimes irrational in their pursuit to secure what they believe they are owed.
Interested corporations, primarily in the entertainment industry, recently attempted to crack down on piracy with the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA). Representative Lamar Smith and Senator Patrick Leahy proposed these two bills to the United States House of Representatives and the Senate, respectively.
Authored primarily through the actions of lobbyists, the laws, once enacted, would have given the government unprecedented authority regarding seizure of web domains and set up the ability for nationwide domain blocking in a system similar to the one China uses. Together these bills threatened the very idea of free speech on the Internet through expanded government powers and endangered the technological underpinnings of the Internet.
As of Jan. 20, both SOPA/PIPA have been indefinitely shelved following an unprecedented movement by the Internet subculture. On Jan. 18, over one hundred websites, including Wikipedia, either completely blacked-out service or displayed some sort of notice or graphic regarding the bills.
All of the rhetoric currently surrounding the bills reveals the most common sentiment: SOPA/PIPA weren’t the right way to address the issue. What are we going to do now? Two key lessons should be taken from the debates regarding SOPA/PIPA as Congress attempts to move forward on the issue of Internet piracy.
First, Congress must acknowledge that the Internet and the industry surrounding it represents, in many ways, a thoroughly American innovation. In some regards, the free forums present on the Internet provide the most democratic micro-societies that exist today.
So, despite the fact that few — if any — current lawmakers have grown up with the Internet in the way my generation did, Congressional representatives and Senators need to take a step back. They must recognize that the culture and true importance of the Internet to the future of the human race and globalization is exceptionally complex and an issue that cannot be flippantly addressed.
Experts exist and the writing of legislation cannot be left to self-interested corporate entities and their sycophantic cronies. Congress must utilize the vast resources at its command to ensure the legislation proposed is the most effective and efficient.
Secondly, one of the most important lessons to be learned from SOPA/PIPA would be the importance of clear and precise language in bills. In the execution of laws, nothing becomes potentially more dangerous than ambiguity. Failure to clearly define the limits of power can easily lead to excessive government control and abuse.
So with the legislation currently on-hold, can thoughtful, politically active Americans consider the battle won and our right to free speech on the Internet preserved? I assert that we cannot, though the success of the SOPA/PIPA movement reveals a mobilization of thought not often seen in today’s political landscape.
As I previously stated, online piracy of copyrighted materials must be dealt with and the most effective form of regulation would undoubtedly be legislation, but we must take lessons from the SOPA/PIPA debate in order to make meaningful changes without endangering our constitutional rights. In the war for the freedom of the Internet, SOPA/PIPA merely represents the first battle.
In many ways, it signifies a victory for the Constitutional rights of Americans, but as engaged, politically concerned citizens, we must not allow complacency to ease its way into our political consciousness.