CENSORED: The Great US FireWall

New governmental legislation aimed at the Internet could seriously hinder the flaming sword thrusting onward to what seems to eventually be a purely digital age.

Words: Zoy Britton

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post was originally posted on December 6th, 2011 at 9:51am, but because of the gravity of the potential passing of SOPA, TEAM STARK decided to repost this piece in every section of our site for those who remain unaware. Help the cause; STOP SOPA. Write and call every congressman you can, and spread the word.

The current legislative bid to limit certain digital freedoms could seriously curtail the budding cultural and technological innovations being fostered by social media, as well as the many blogs and digital publications that have launched over the past few years. SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) and its companion act, Piracy IP, would force Internet users to tailor any output with complete respect to a fixed body of rules as defined by SOPA/ Piracy IP. If found in defiance of SOPA/Piracy IP, host sites would be blocked by ISPs (Internet Service Providers), search engines, payment providers and advertising networks, without benefit of due diligence as well as face the imminent possibility of legal action taken by the rightful owner(s) of the pirated content.

Though SOPA appears focused on weeding out “overseas pirates” who steal content and sell it for cheaper, elsewhere on the Web, it would actually strike at the three core components of Internet innovation: sharing, open communities and autonomous participation. Many of the legislation’s backers, including the MPAA, the Screen Actors Guild, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and, interestingly enough, the International Association of Firefighters, see this as a means of protecting what the government calls “intellectual property”, yet they see risk one- dimensionally: in dollars and cents. In truth, “intellectual property” extends far beyond just pirated content to all user content and would litigiously jeopardize anything that any user posts across the social media spectrum under the umbrella of copyright infringement.

Currently, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act affords websites immunity from prosecution as long as they immediately remove any user content that imposes upon copyright infringement. However, sites like Tumblr, Flickr, Google+, Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo would be sitting ducks simply waiting for governmental punishment since SOPA would allow sites to be shut down, despite ignorance of user’s copyrighted posts. Let’s not even mention the sites that solely aggregate content from other sources, user comments, or how companies would take major financial hits thanks to lost investors (read advertising, venture capital, etc) and SOPA maintenance costs.

In Booz & Company’s “The Impact of Internet Copyright Regulations on Early-Stage Investment: A Quantitative Study”, over 200 angel investors and venture capitalists were queried about SOPA/Pirate IP. A large majority of these 200 stated they would desist funding to DCIs (digital content to intermediaries which are sites/companies that provide search, hosting and distribution services for digital content) if such strict legislation were passed. Mind you, angel investors and venture capitalists account for $40 billion worth of investment money annually into various start-ups and losing such a critical monetary source would cripple many entrepreneurial efforts.

The Breakdown: To add fiscal racks on racks on racks, huge costs would be incurred by site owners, who would then require tech teams to monitor users in effort to maintain SOPA standards. Such costs, in addition to lack of funding sources, would make it infinitely more difficult for budding Internet companies trying to get off the ground, which would effectively diminish the current surge in entrepreneurial efforts.

Case Closed? This isn’t the first time the government has gone after sites for copyright infringement (see OnSmash.com now known as FreeOnSmash.com). However, it’s striking that the government is pushing such generalized legislation. Such measures are nerve-rackingly similar to the oppressive governmental presence on the Internet via China’s Great Firewall and much like what is occurring in the Middle East, which begs the question: If censorship is allowed on the Internet, what’s next? Piracy should not be permitted, but protection from piracy should never come at the cost of such cultural freedoms.

Thankfully, DCIs and the Internet community aren’t going down without a fight. Many of the big players like Google, Facebook, Zynga, eBay, Yahoo, Twitter and LinkedIn have made public their statements of opposition, such as the full page We Stand Together to Protect Innovation ad, which ran in the New York Times, for example. Plus, many of these same companies have been doing their best to inform users of SOPA’s implications, while encouraging them to join the fight.

To lend a helping hand in the effort against SOPA/Pirate IP, visit HERE

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