RESTON, Va. February 3, 2012–The nation breathes a sigh of relief as the government rejects two much-feared bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and the Protect IP Act, (PIPA). The passage of SOPA and PIPA could result in wide ranging government control over the Internet.
Both SOPA and PIPA, quite similar in intent to the regulatory regimes applied in China and Syria to control Internet access, demonstrate the harrowing times in which we live.
Just two days after the citizens of America rose up to prevent these travesties of political regulation of the Internet, the alleged government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” seized and subjugated megaupload.com. Megaupload.com is a file-sharing site that allows individuals, including artists, to download, store and share over the Internet large content files, including text.
While owner use may be perfectly legitimate, the allegations that led to government action stemmed from users, and possibly owners, downloading and sharing copyrighted content that they did not pay for.
German hacker Kim Dotcom (Schmitz) and others were arrested in Auckland, New Zeland and charged with stealing an estimated $500 million in pirated content, taking in $175 million as a result.
They are charged with “criminal copyright infringement and money-laundering on a massive scale.” The megaupload.com site claims over fifty million visits per day, or 4% of all traffic on the Internet.
The megaupload.com site did sell revenue-generating ads, charged for premium subscriptions, and, it is charged, was not always cooperative in removing copyrighted material from their pages.
Syria and China are countries where the people have limited rights, while the government enjoys unequivocal authority and dominance, such as was directed toward megaupload.com.
In America, SOPA and PIPA would have been only the beginning of a slippery slope that could have converted the land of the free into a dictatorial leviathan.
SOPA and PIPA were designed as a kind of “savior” to protect against real threats of thievery from music artists, as well as original written content from news sites and ideas from creators via the Internet.
The president, the Judiciary, and until recently the legislature believed government should take charge of this growing problem, regardless of the public’s position. After the public expressed outrage over these laws, though, our leaders finally acquiesced and accepted a growing awareness of how drastically the laws would inhibit our freedoms.
Which businesses advocated for the position of the average American? Such websites as Wikipedia.com and Reddit.com performed a simultaneous blackout period on January 18th in order to remind the country how many resources were at risk should the government pass SOPA and PIPA.
In closing down megaupload.com, the charge was that the site was a main center of piracy, yet Megaupload.com has stated that “Activity that violates our terms of service or our acceptable use policy is not tolerated, and we go to great lengths to swiftly process legitimate DMCA takedown notices.”
As a result, Americans storing legal documents, from doctoral theses to patient records to books to even dissertations on megaupload.com (close to 150 million subscribers), have lost all access to them as they were swept away by the shutdown.
This shutdown was disgraceful, especially considering its surreptitious nature. Despite the nation’s staunch position against SOPA and PIPA, political leaders have discreetly foisted on us some of what those acts would have made legal. It’s now clear that they had the power to do so all along.
So where do we go from here? As a people, we have been attacked from within. Our government has begun what could very well become an expansive filtration of the Internet for the American people.
Our nation, however, must return to the ideals of a government that serves, rather than controls, the people that it represents.
Liberty is defined in the dictionary as “the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life.” Government sanctioned termination of any website without a fair trial and a recurrence of any such acts as SOPA and PIPA all qualify as oppressive restrictions.
President Obama labeled this time as the time to provide change, so now more than ever the nation should constantly be wary of whether the alterations are for the better, or are simply a ploy for power. About 230 years ago, our nation was founded on the basis of a representative democracy—the first of its kind.
As more government regulations arise threatening our liberties on the Internet and elsewhere, we as Americans must always take a stand for our liberties. The adage is just as appropriate today as it was at the founding of our country: Don’t tread on me, and certainly don’t tread on my Internet.
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