George Orwell wrote 1984 as fiction, but if the legislation about to be debated in the senate were to become law, then the US will have taken a big step toward that big brother society we all dread.
The two new pieces of legislation that are about to be debated in the US senate, PIPA and SOPA will enable both U.S. government agencies and private companies to trawl the net for the smallest possible copyright violations, and take action to stop them.
When Wikipedia shut down Wednesday, you caught a glimpse of what the future could be if this draconian, big brother brute of an act becomes law. The ever present war on the web, over what you are allowed to see, say, listen to or download from the web is being taken up to a terrifying new level.
Two US bills are proposed, these being the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act, both efforts to limit copyright infringement on line, but such broad-brush and clumsy propositions that the cyber-world is up in arms.
Google, Yahoo and many other prodigious sites raised protests, fearful that this bills will utterly devastate the freewheeling world of the Internet, changing it forever, and not for the better. Make no mistake, sites like triond would almost certainly go to the wall, simply because there is so much reference on them to copyright materials without clear signs of permission for use from the owners.
This means that sites like youtube would be banned, and any current sites allowing free downloads of music, film etc would also struggle to stay on line. That media companies are in favour – they long to stop illegal downloading and pirating of material – the vast majority hate the idea.
To be clear, SOPA is the House bill and PIPA the senate sister, but both target foreign websites pirating US materials – to combat the almost 20% bandwidth use by such pirates – but lots of observers think the language used but both target foreign websites pirating US materials – to combat the almost 20% bandwidth use by such pirates – but lots of observers think the language used too vague in defining what constitutes piracy.
Not defined is the question of who bears responsibility for keeping illegal material off U.S. sites, the proposals including unacceptably harsh sanctions. If passed, owners of alleged copyright could seek court orders blocking access and requiring both advertisers and credit card companies to stop payments.
Foreign infringing sites are defined on SOPA as committing or infringing copyright, making it illegal to stream unauthorized content. If this includes unknowingly hosted pirated material such as the user-generated videos uploaded on Facebook, Wikipedia, or Twitter then the web is in big trouble.
We should also beware the more aggressive PIPA, which will target sites it describes as having no significant use other than copyright infringement, but in a generous spirit of fairness, websites pinpointed would have 5 days to appeal the decisions.
It should be born in mind that these two hateful and horrid attempts at web censorship are re-hashed versions of earlier attempts that never got off the ground, and PIPA especially is struggling for senate sponsorship as senators begin to doubt the wisdom of it.
The debate will begin on January 24, in the US legislature, about the passage for these two bills, and hopefully good sense will prevail and they will be defeated, but we should all note that shiver of apprehension that creeps down our spines at the horror of such proposals.
Writing for the web generally would become a true minefield of copyright issues, permission requests and massive risk of site closure because of oversights or lack of concentration about items included in the pieces we publish. I read 1984 by George Orwell, and would despise such a society, if it existed for real.
SOPA and PIPA would be the first tentative steps on the road to such unrelenting control over our lives, and we must fight as hard as we can to ensure that they never come to pass into law. It is not just our creative freedom at stake here, but our entire way of life.
As writers but also as individuals we have to be dismayed at the prospects for the future of the web if this Orwellian proposal becomes law, because the rest of the cyber-world would have, in time to follow suit. Raise your own voices loud and proud, because we have to be resolved that they shall not pass, if we want our freedoms to remain intact.