SOPA Infringes On Intellectual Freedom


The Internet has been our savior in college. It’s the vast information pool where we research for classes and keep up with the news. It’s the virtual hangout where we connect to our campus and friends. But it also serves as a form of escapism, a place where we watch mindless YouTube videos and drown in our favorite bands.  The Internet is popular not only because it serves as a resource, but because anyone and everyone can connect and share their ideas, thoughts, music, photos and videos. But this freedom to say and view what we want and browse without restriction might come to an end.

The Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, aimed at preventing websites housed overseas from distributing pirated material. While the United States has strong anti-copyrighting laws, regulation abroad is less strict. Under SOPA, search engines in the U.S would have been banned from using services that house pirated material. If the Act was passed, some of our favorite sites like YouTube and Wikipedia could face tight regulation by the government.

On Jan. 18, we caught a glimpse of what it might be like to have these freedoms limited. Wikipedia went black and Google’s logo was blocked out. The Internet seemed to garner a voice telling Congress to let it keep it’s freedom.

Some media companies like Time Warner and the Motion Picture Association were the strongest advocates of the act. They argued that SOPA could help fix a broken system and discourage illegal activity on the web. Their concern is with protecting and compensating content providers and preventing job losses resulting from online piracy.

While those are noble intentions, the reality is that the legislation surrounding SOPA was highly flawed. SOPA’s provisions to block searches are a direct violation of the First Amendment because it condones censorship. Secondly, SOPA went back on the very action it is trying to preven—piracy— as it grants immunity for certain entities that have already violated the Digital Media Copyright Act (DMCA), a law passed in 1998. This act could have penalized copyright infringement committed by online service providers. Even worse, websites yielding to the DMCA provisions can get penalized because of vague language within the legislation. Finally, SOPA privileged search engines, webhosts and others who self-censor, which can in turn hinder innovation and freedom on the Internet.

The flaws of the SOPA bill are reflective of how unequipped those in Congress who drafted this legislation are to regulate online piracy. Yes, they may have years of experience creating the laws by which our society functions, but they do not understand how the Internet functions, nor do they understand the severe repercussions this legislation can have on it.

Hyperlinks, shared videos, blogs, status updates—the Internet is based on a foundation of sharing information and ideas. It is how we communicate and stay informed. On Jan. 20, the decision was made to table the bill, forcing lawmakers to rework it. Even still, this is a piece of legislation that we cannot ignore. Whatever provisions made to the Internet may seriously hinder our academic lifestyles. We must  keep our laptops up and our eyes wide open.