Censoring the Internet

December 20, 2011 • Editorial

Clint Eastwood’s iconic movie character, “Dirty Harry” Callahan, famously said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” If only more members of Congress would take that advice to heart, especially when it comes to highly technical issues like the Internet.
The House Judiciary Committee on Thursday held hearings on a frightening piece of legislation called the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. Its goals are admirable: Protect copyrighted material from being pirated and counterfeited on the Internet (a similar bill, called the PROTECT IP Act, resides in the Senate).
But its solution is too heavy-handed. In seeking to punish those who steal intellectual property, the legislation would give the government the power to [auth] block entire websites that merely have been accused of violating a copyright. Instead of demanding only that the questionable content be removed, SOPA would erect a federal firewall on targeted sites.
Currently, if a movie studio or music company sees a video on YouTube that it believes violates the copyright, they can flag it and the website will take it down. That’s simple and fair. Under SOPA, all of YouTube could be blocked — even home videos of cats acting silly.
That’s like dropping a nuclear bomb on a building because there’s a pesky mouse inside a wall.
The Internet has succeeded because it is decentralized, has open access and is constantly evolving. It’s like an organism whose cells keep dividing, growing, mutating. Its properties undermine hierarchies, giving more control to individuals. That threatens those in entrenched positions of power, who find themselves like French troops in 1940 watching the Germans flank the Maginot Line.
That’s why SOPA and the PROTECT IP Act are supported by the entertainment industry, which has repeatedly fought against technological advances — from VCRs to mp3 players to YouTube — that give individuals the power to distribute and enjoy content without going through the corporate gatekeepers.
The proposed legislation threatens to throw sand in the Internet’s virtual gears, stifling commerce and free expression.
Seeing Congress tinker with the World Wide Web is like watching Drs. Moe, Larry and Curly perform brain surgery. Some SOPA supporters don’t appear to understand complex Internet security protocols and how the bill would affect them.
At least some members of the Judiciary Committee admitted their ignorance.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said, “I worry that we did not take the time to have a hearing to truly understand what we’re doing … maybe we ought to ask some nerds what this (bill) really does.”
SOPA is a product of corporate lobbying that would censor the Internet. Congress should hit the delete button on it.
Guest Editorial
The Panama City News Herald

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