Yesterday, Privacy Lives joined others in going dark in protest of the U.S. Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA). The groups include major sites such as Google, Wikipedia and the Internet Archive (pdf), as well as arts groups such as the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, Dance/USA, Fractured Atlas and National Alliance for Media Art and Culture, and groups such as Doctors Without Borders, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Online News Association and Global Voices. Civil liberties and privacy groups such as Public Knowledge and the Electronic Frontier Foundation also joined the protest.
Why did such a variety of groups speak out against SOPA and PIPA? Simply put: The bills would allow copyright owners to get court orders to block not just content that infringes on their copyrights but copyright owners could block entire Web sites and the bills would allow the U.S. attorney general to block content or Web sites that the Justice Department determines is engaging in criminal copyright infringement. Court orders under SOPA/PIPA would mean: Internet Service Providers would be required to prevent access to the sites, U.S. search engines would have to remove links to the Web sites from their indexes, and payment service firms (PayPal, credit card companies) would be required to cut off funding for the Web sites. And Web sites would have few ways to effectively appeal these court orders.
Privacy Lives and other protesting groups are not supporting theft of intellectual property or copyright infringement. The problem is that the legislation is so broadly written that, as Public Knowledge explains it: “They sweep in every site that includes links, not just the ‘worst of the worst.’ PIPA applies to ‘information location tools,’ a comically over-broad legal concept that includes things such as a ‘directory, index, reference, pointer, or hypertext link.’ Policing every link on a site is an impossible burden for even the best intentioned site.” And EFF says that: “Broad immunity provisions (combined with a threat of litigation) would encourage service providers to overblock innocent users or even block websites voluntarily. This gives content companies every incentive to create unofficial blacklists of websites, which service providers would be under pressure to block without regard to the First Amendment. […] SOPA gives the government new powers to go after sites that provide information about tools that might be used to bypass the blacklists — even though these are often the same tools used by democratic activists around the world to bypass Internet censorship mechanisms implemented by authoritarian governments like Iran and China.”
Speak out against SOPA and PIPA. Join in the protest to protect our civil liberties. You can sign up at Public Knowledge or EFF. If you can, donate to these groups so they can continue to fight for your rights.