Major websites in the United States shut down for 24 hours yesterday in protest at proposals to attack web freedom. All hands on deck says Clare Solomon - stop the corporations banning the 'pirates'.
Visit their page and you will find a full screen announcement of their intention to ‘raise awareness’ of the Protect IP Act (Protect Intellectual Property Act), a bill which the US government will debate and vote on in the Senate on 24 January 2012.
This is the latest development in the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) debate.
The bill targets file-sharing websites that allow users to share documents, music, TV programmes, films and photographs.
Campaigners arguing against the bill claim that the attempt to stop piracy is designed to get people to buy more films thus boosting corporate profits.
The bill will allow the government to block access to domain names (www.nameofsite.blogspot.com for instance) including blogs, websites and forums that have any link to a file which the parent company deems to be pirated. It will also allow funding to be cut to websites by forcing advertisers to cancel their contracts.
Members of the American Congress who are pushing through the bill claim that this law is necessary in order to ‘protect creativity’. The opposition campaign webpage Fight For The Future/PIPA says that the law will allow the entertainment industry to have the power to censor the internet.
Companies will be able to sue and to close down other sites that have not filtered effectively ie, they have not ensured that their websites do not contain any links to filesharing sites.
The language of the bill is so ambiguous that these measures would extend to sites such as Facebook, Youtube and Twitter. These companies would be responsible for all the content posted by users. A video of a baby doing cute things with music on in the background could, for example, be removed and both the website and the user could be penalised.
Wikipedia claims that this law will not stop piracy since it will still be possible to access a site using an IP address (an Internet Protocol address is rather like a residential address but in numbered code) rather than a domain name. It will make the internet less secure and unstable since there is no guarantee that governments around the world, if the law is passed in other countries, may not have the same level of agreement.
But there are some wider issues raised by Wikipedia’s campaign. Any site that depends on user content is essentially benefitting from free labour. We upload, edit, share and so on for free; host sites make money out of the associated advertising. Wikipedia itself is a non-profit organisation but others including Facebook and Youtube do depend on people uploading for free in order to sell advertising.
The problem is, who’s side are we on? One group of people want to make money and limit freedom, the other group want to defend freedom in order to make money out of it.
Naturally we side with those defending liberty but our ultimate aim should be for freedom without condition, or the profit motive.
If you are reading this in America or know someone who lives there who wants to be involved in the campaign go to http://www.fightforthefuture.org/pipa
Sign the Avaaz petition: http://www.avaaz.org/en/save_the_internet_action_center_b/?cl=1517596716&v=12089
As President of the University of London Union 2010-2011, Clare was a key organiser of the 2010 student rebellion. ‘Springtime: The New Student Rebellions’, her book on the student and youth revolts worldwide, co-edited with Tania Palmieri, is published by Verso. She is a leading member of the People's Assembly and Counterfire.
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