A guest post from Edgar Harris.

Many of you may have heard of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). SOPA is a new bill that recently came out of the House Judiciary Committee. Its intent is obvious, to put a stop to online piracy. In particular SOPA “specifically targets foreign website primarily dedicated to illegal activity or foreign websites that market themselves as such”.

First a word about online piracy. For some reason there is a fair amount of controversy surrounding online piracy, and some have even argued that piracy does not amount to theft.  I completely disagree.  Piracy is stealing, plain and simple.

SOPA’s intent is admirable but its methods are not. SOPA gives the federal government the authority to shut down any domain it suspects is involved in piracy, without a trial. What’s worse is SOPA’s definition of piracy involvement is so broad that a site with a single link to copyrighted material is considered to be in violation, and it doesn’t matter if that link was posted by an outside party on the site’s forums. This should be a huge concern to anyone that values Civil Liberties.

SOPA could easily be abused to tear down our first amendment rights.  The Internet has become the location for political discourse.  While SOPA’s intent might be to eliminate online piracy, it gives the US Government the power to do much more.  Under SOPA the US Government could easily abuse its broadened powers to shut down sites that it has a problem with, similar to how countries like China can use their powers to censor content on the Internet.

Not only does SOPA threaten our civil liberties, but SOPA also discourages innovation. Today’s Internet relies heavily on the idea of user created content. Think about some of the most popular websites, such as YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, the New York Times, or even Political Derby. Almost all of these sites allow users to post their own content, whether it be their amateur videos, their status updates in Facebook, or comments on a news article or opinion piece. The idea that anyone can contribute their own content is at the center of the Internet, and SOPA will put that at risk. It is impossible for these sites to police every piece of content that is submitted.  For this reason, either copyrighted material or links to copyrighted materials can be found on almost all of these sites. Since it is technically impossible for these sites to exist and still comply with SOPA, SOPA will effectively kill off these sites or at the least kill off major features of these sites.

SOPA further discourages innovation by favoring entrenched Corporations from innovative competitors. One of the great innovations of the Internet is it lowers the barrier to create and distribute content. Previously, large publishing houses had complete control over what content got published, but that has come to an end.  YouTube is a prime example of an Internet site that offers plenty of legitimate competition to these large publishing houses, and not surprisingly these large publishing houses are major supporters of SOPA. Talk about picking winners and losers.

One of the most shocking developments on SOPA is how much support it is receiving in Congress.  SOPA enjoys bi-partisan support in Congress. This should be surprising, because SOPA would appear to fly in the face of key principles for both parties. Republicans have been making the claim that large Government regulations destroy jobs, curb innovations, and threaten individual liberty. Likewise Democrats make the claim that they stand for the common American, the party that protects our rights from corporate abuses. However by supporting SOPA both parties are betraying their core values and their constituents, in favor of supporting narrow corporate interests.

No matter what party you belong to, SOPA should concern you. Congress is correct to conclude that SOPA is a non-partisan issue, but they chose the wrong side. We should demand better from our representatives. We did not elect these officials to cater to the narrow interests of the MPAA and the RIAA. We elected these members of Congress to represent us. Whether you are a Republican demanding less Government intrusion or a Democrat demanding protection from corporate abuses, your interests are not being represented by Congress on this issue.

While SOPA’s intent of eliminating piracy is admirable it’s methods are not. Piracy is a real problem, but that doesn’t mean that we apply a heavy handed solution like SOPA to solve this problem. With every piece of legislation we need to weigh the cost of the legislation with its benefits. SOPA threatens our civil liberties, and it threatens innovation on the Internet. The cost of SOPA is too high, and it should be rejected.

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