I’ve read quite a bit about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) being debated later today in the US House of Representatives, as well as about its sister, the Protect IP Act (PIPA). To my mind, the internet is by far the largest and most globally important bastion of free speech and free expression, and it is vitally important for all of us that we protect this freedom.
As they are currently worded, SOPA and PIPA are far too wide-ranging in their scope. Not only would websites hosting pirated films, books and music be censored, but so would any which link to them, and anyone who used any of this vast network of sites for whatever purpose, including language teaching, would be adversely affected, regardless of “fair use” clauses under the education provisions of existing copyright laws. US-based search engines, like Google and Yahoo!, would be prevented from linking to sites deemed unsuitable under these proposed Acts, and it would therefore also become very difficult to locate any proxy, privacy or anonymising software online (imagine an event like the Arab Spring happening under these conditions – we would not hear of it, as those fighting for change would have to reveal their identities in order to communicate with us, thereby endangering themselves and their families). Likewise, all social media sites, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and so on, would face the perhaps impossible task of checking all third-party links and uploads for possible US copyright infringements, as would all other websites visible in the United States. The provisions of SOPA and PIPA could result in the end of many websites smaller than the social media Goliaths, as they would not have the resources to devote to their successful policing. SOPA and PIPA would also cripple innovation online: as a recent study shows, many venture capitalists will not invest in new internet businesses if SOPA and PIPA become US law without being radically changed.
Both SOPA and PIPA also promise immunity from prosecution to all internet service providers (ISPs) which voluntarily block websites they believe may violate US copyright laws. The standard for immunity is very low: the providers must simply “act in good faith” based on “credible evidence”. This leaves the proposed Acts open to massive abuse, and ISPs under pressure to block sites at the request of private companies and individuals, or face a court order against them; and so we face the prospect of an internet censored by largely unaccountable and anonymous corporate entities.
Because I believe these proposed laws are so flawed, and because their passing into law would affect the internet not only in the USA, but around the world, I have decided to join the website blackout today in protest. Please note that the main page of this site will “go dark” from around 8am Eastern Standard Time today until about 8pm this evening. You will still be able to visit the jobs page by bookmarking or following this link: http://eltresource.com/tefljobs
You can find out how to join the strike, learn more about the two Acts and their ramifications, or sign US or international petitions against them, by clicking here.
Thanks for reading,