If you visited this site yesterday (thanks!) you would have found that it was blacked out and instead you would have read a message about protesting SOPA, the anti-piracy bill currently being debated in Congress. This is not generally a political blog, but I felt that joining this movement was important. Here are my thoughts on why.
My constitutional law professor in law school called me a First Amendment fetishist. I took it as a compliment. Freedom of speech is, without a doubt, the most important right that we have. Even more important than things like freedom of religion, due process, freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, etc. Because we can only safeguard those rights if we have the ability to speak out when they’re threatened.
The internet has made speech incredibly far-reaching, powerful, and world-changing. But it has also made things more complicated. Piracy of copyrighted material can take place on a scale never before possible. That’s a problem. But the current SOPA/PIPA bills are not the right solution*.
Of course, I do believe that copyright protection is important. As a writer, I definitely believe that copyright protection is important. I’ve already had some of my posts stolen by people and put up on their pseudo-blogs as content. It’s not cool.
But the way this law works is to make all actors guilty unless they can prove themselves innocent. Small websites won’t have the clout/money/resources to prove themselves innocent and will just fold instead. Large websites with lots of user-generated content will never be able to prove themselves innocent because new user-generated content will constantly be added (including even something as simple as comments to an article). So they’ll just have to shut down or block all such content. Oh, you know, sites like Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter. WORDPRESS.
Imagine a world where we couldn’t blog. We couldn’t take our thoughts, ideas, imaginings, dreams and hopes and put them into written form to share with the world. We couldn’t connect with thousands of other bloggers and learn and laugh and cry together. We couldn’t experience the joy of clicking “Publish” and seeing our hard work journey out on its own, sure to travel paths and meet people and see sites we’ll never see ourselves. That would be a sad, sad world.
And that’s why this blog went dark yesterday. I do not want that world.
* This is a great video that explains the bill and its consequences better than I can here. (It’s a different video from the one that was posted here yesterday.) Not mentioned in the video, but equally scary, is this fact: The American government regularly provides encryption technology to dissidents in countries like Iran and China that allows them to get around the censorship of the internet under those regimes. If SOPA passed, that same encryption technology would be illegal in the United States. Anything that makes us more like a dictatorial regime is not good in my book. Not good at all. (Consider Amnesty International’s take on the issue here.)