A Congressional bill intended to fight piracy is drawing fire from the
Internet establishment, who say it would put the United States on a path to Chinese-style repression.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (known as the PROTECT IP Act in its Senate form) would allow the government to force Internet service providers to deny service to web sites that host pirated material — even if those sites were hosted overseas. The bill is the result of heavy lobbying by the entertainment industry.
Intended to combat the trade in pirated movies and music, the two bills would give copyright holders and law enforcement officials added powers to cut off websites and require search engines, payment collectors and others to block access.
Under the proposed House bill, the burden of punishment for uploading copyrighted material to web sites would be shifted from the user to the site owners. Any site that unknowingly hosted such material could be shut down entirely, critics say.
As SOPA receives its first Congressional hearing today, many Internet heavyweights have spoken out against what they say are its repressive tactics. Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt called the bill’s measures “draconian,” adding that forcing ISPs “to remove URLs from the Web [was] known as censorship last time I checked.”
Tech groups have banded together in opposition to the bill, declaring today American Censorship Day. In honor of the occasion, sites around the web are displaying their logos as “BLOCKED” black bars, or opening up fake splash pages saying that the site has been blocked. Sites like Wikipedia and tumblr have argued that the bill would place an unfair burden on them, while Reddit has taken efforts one step further and organized a lobbying effort against the bill.
The anti-SOPA movement also released this PSA against the bill:
During the House Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill, Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC) said critics were overreacting.
“[It’s] beyond troubling to hear hyperbolic charges that this bill will open the floodgates to government censorship,” Watt, a SOPA sponsor, said. “[Comparing the bill to the actions of] a repressive regime belittles the circumstances under which true victims of tyrannical governments actually live.”
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