Imagine a world without Youtube, eBay, Craigslist, Wikipedia or Google. If the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act are passed as they are now, they would have the potential to deny the next generation of technology.
There has been a lot of discussion regarding these sister laws (one in the House, one the Senate). Judging by the demeanor and tone – the tech companies opposed to the legislation mean business. The founder of Wikipedia has even threatened to shut-down the US site just to make a point: the freedom of information is important, vital, to the US economy.
The entire issue is easily summed up, but not easily fixed. This is a fight between those who create content, and those who create new ways to create and distribute it.
Congress is stuck between a rock and a hard place- They have Disney and other entertainment companies on one side arguing for the laws. Their side is that the government should do something to stop the illegal distribution of their movies; their music; their TV shows; and everything else they own (think ABC, ESPN…). These are legitimate goals. They want their rights protected. They own content which the government has promised them the exclusive use of.
On the other side is Google, Youtube, eBay, and Craigslist; the providers of free email, free search, free video entertainment and education, and free access to a marketplace of local and international goods. The companies against the legislation have legitimate goals, too. They want to be able to use the internet to create, distribute, and share information.
The acts, which are not yet laws, have the power to shut down entire companies for a single violation of a copyright. In effect, if someone sold a bootleg DVD on eBay, the seller AND eBay could both be found liable, subject to federal penalties, and have the ENTIRE online auction site shut down. The act of a single user could cripple any of these major companies.
The content creators want to stop illegal downloading and sharing of content. The distributors don’t want to be subject to vague laws that could punish them for acts they didn’t commit, but merely enabled.
Protecting copyrights is an important thing, even a necessary thing. These property rights create large incentives for entrepreneurs to capitalize on their hard work. However, if these bills pass they could undermine the entire US internet. These laws, if in effect, could work against companies that own content and limit their international exposure and consumer feedback which helps make them successful. Additionally, these laws have no jurisdiction over foreign websites and therefore only hamper US businesses engaged in otherwise legal endeavors.
This is a classic case of punishing everyone for the acts of a few, especially when those few may very well go unpunished.
In the end, it’s us that lose. This legislation creates the potential for a single act by another party to collapse some of the world’s largest companies. We need our legislators to think long and hard about the laws they pass, and ensure they are protecting just as much as they are hurting.
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