"This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it's nothing but wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference." - Edward R. Murrow
With these words spoken by Edward R. Murrow not long after his battle with Senator Joseph McCarthy, though he spoke of the power of the television, the internet is now the tool in which we teach, illuminate and inspire. Today marks an important day for content creators and providers, and with their protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the two houses of the United States Congress, the protestors shifted the language and the space the bills now negotiate in the public domain.
I took interest in SOPA in the middle of November, thinking initially that it is an imposing act. What I learned then was that PIPA was a similar bill proposed earlier in the year on the Senate floor. SOPA, then, is in fact the sister bill on the House of Representatives floor. In November, I began opposing the bills.
What one has to understand is that there are layers to this bill. First, and foremost, I believe that the majority of Americans insist that it is unethical/unmoral to steal and to pirate content. I too believe this. This is one purpose of PIPA and SOPA in which I agree.
But while this agreed space is important, the bills also pose a greater threat to content creators and providers. This is where I oppose the bills, like many at Wikipedia, Google and Facebook. PIPA and SOPA also places the burden upon the content creators and providers to police themselves. If they do not, the government and media lobbyists and representatives could close down entire sites for infringing upon copyright. As well, search engines would be required not to list sites that break copyright laws.
Once a site is flagged as breaking copyright, the burden of proof falls upon the content providers and creators. In simple terms, that means that if one blogger on blogspot, tumblr, myspace, facebook, twitter or youtube broke copyright, it would be that user or sites' responsibility to demonstrate that either the copyrighted material is removed or that the material is, in fact, not under copyright.
With this comes unintended consequences. It would be a shut down of the internet. I believe that under the SOPA and PIPA limitations, the internet would become a place where all materials shared become questionable. The potential of the internet is the ability to share, because the human experience and the personal experience are shareable and relatible. Edward R. Murrow rightfully believed that the dangers of television was that it held the power to insulate viewers from realities deemed too violent, too real and too multilateral. With the growth and expansion of the internet, viewers held the power also to become creators and sharers of ideas and intentions. The lobbyists of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), who are the most vocal proponents of PIPA/SOPA limitations, are not only wanting to change the agency of copyright policing, but also the agency of the internet as a whole.
Here is a different perspective on the opposition from Clay Shirky at ted.com. (FYI, I wouldn't be able to embed this ted.com video under PIPA and SOPA).Professor Shirky shares a great background on the history of copyright policies about internet content.
What I believe is the right course of action is to strengthen copyright laws, including a strengthening of the penalization of copyright infringement. End users who infringe upon copyrights should be the ones who the government penalizes. But for those who create and want to share information, ideas and content over avenues like facebook, google, twitter and youtube without the powers of copyright they should be free to do so without threat. The facebooks and googles of the world should not threatened to be shutdown because their hundreds of millions of users infringe upon copyright.
The radio and the television were mostly a unidirectional medium. Their viewers and listeners were consumers. The internet is an amalgamation of consumers, creators and people who share inspirations, making the internet a collection of users in a omnidirectional medium. The lobbyists of the RIAA and MPAA wants to make the internet to be a place of consumers, and only consumers, just as it was with radio and television. With the emphasis on "net neutrality", I believe that the internet is now a tool to create, for creativity is what can teach, illuminate and inspire. SOPA and PIPA forces the internet to become the new television, the television that Edward R. Murrow disliked.