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November Editorial: "Great Firewall" Leads to Stricter Internet Censorship

Byline: by Laura B. Hans

Posted: January 16, 2012

Get ready for big changes on the Internet, if the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Enforcing and Protecting American Rights Against Sites Intent on Theft and Exploitation Act (E-PARASITE) are enforced.

These bills would dramatically increase U.S. Internet censorship. They would hold Internet service providers (ISPs) and search engines responsible for removing websites that host pirated or trademarked material from the Internet at the request of the government or courts without due process. If pirated or trademarked material were hosted, it would be considered a felony. Companies could also cut off advertising money to sites they say are hosting pirated materials. Additionally, the bills could order search engines to cut off sites that have been blacklisted from their results.

Currently, under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) technologies which evade copyright laws are banned. That means, ISPs like YouTube have the responsibility to take down material a copyright holder says is posted without permission. Therefore, YouTube removes videos after copyright holders complain. The DMCA provides a safe harbor for companies like YouTube, which, in good faith, remove infringing content from their sites, but the new bills would undermine this.

The ISPs would also have to scrupulously monitor their user’s behavior to be sure copyright infringement does not occur. This is a major problem for websites with user-generated content like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr, SoundCloud, eBay, Flicker or Wikipedia.

Facebook is a website at risk of shut-down. Could you imagine if Facebook had to police everything that was posted? If a user posted a film clip, or a video clip from a nationally broadcasted sports game, or even a video of themselves singing a cover song on their Facebook page, it would be a felony.

What can we do instead? Increase access to content. This initially happened through iTunes then Hulu, Netflix and now Spotify. As long as they are free or affordable and legal, the public can enjoy media and copyrights can be maintained.

If you are interested in petitioning the proposed bills, visit www.whitehouse.gov/petitions.

Last Updated: February 24, 2013

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