Dear Americans: Please Don’t Let Your Government Use SOPA To Break the World’s Internet

More than half of the people who visit this site are Americans. Today, I’d like to ask you all to do a favour. Not just for me, but for yourself and for the rest of the world.

Have you ever heard of the Protect IP Act or the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)? If you haven’t, I want you to read this. Here’s just a bit of it.

The bills would empower the attorney general to create a blacklist of sites to be blocked by Internet service providers, search engines, payment providers and advertising networks, all without a court hearing or a trial. The House version goes further, allowing private companies to sue service providers for even briefly and unknowingly hosting content that infringes on copyright — a sharp change from current law, which protects the service providers from civil liability if they remove the problematic content immediately upon notification. The intention is not the same as China’s Great Firewall, a nationwide system of Web censorship, but the practical effect could be similar.

Abuses under existing American law serve as troubling predictors for the kinds of abuse by private actors that the House bill would make possible. Take, for example, the cease-and-desist letters that Diebold, a maker of voting machines, sent in 2003, demanding that Internet service providers shut down Web sites that had published internal company e-mails about problems with the company’s voting machines. The letter cited copyright violations, and most of the service providers took down the content without question, despite the strong case to be made that the material was speech protected under the First Amendment.

The House bill would also emulate China’s system of corporate “self-discipline,” making companies liable for users’ actions. The burden would be on the Web site operator to prove that the site was not being used for copyright infringement. The effect on user-generated sites like YouTube would be chilling.

YouTube, Twitter and Facebook have played an important role in political movements from Tahrir Square to Zuccotti Park. At present, social networking services are protected by a “safe harbor” provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which grants Web sites immunity from prosecution as long as they act in good faith to take down infringing content as soon as rights-holders point it out to them. The House bill would destroy that immunity, putting the onus on YouTube to vet videos in advance or risk legal action. It would put Twitter in a similar position to that of its Chinese cousin, Weibo, which reportedly employs around 1,000 people to monitor and censor user content and keep the company in good standing with authorities.

did that scare the shit out of you? It should. This legislation is being brought forth by your own government with the help and support of big industries. They say it’s just because they want and need to protect copyrights and bring laws into the digital age, but you and I both know that’s a complete load. The potential for abuse is staggering. If somebody doesn’t like what you have to say, all that person has to do is accuse you of infringement. Next thing you know, you’re suddenly disappeared from the internet. No voice, no money, and almost no chance of fighting back. You know that’s not how it’s supposed to work, but if this passes, that’s how it will.

So what I want you to do is simple. Write. Call. Let everyone you know in on this. Then contact your member of Congress, your Senator, your dog catcher, whoever you have to contact and let them know that what they’re doing is horribly flawed and not in anybody’s best interests. Please, the world needs you. If you don’t believe me, here’s a little more reading for you. Yes, the United States, with passage of this bill, will essentially be trying to take ownership of the world’s internet.

Please Americans, we’re all counting on you here. You’re smarter than this, and you have a voice. Use it, and please do your best to stop this for all of us.

Thank you.

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