SOPA and PIPA, Danger Will Robinson


Today, everyone I work with at Empire Avenue took the stand of coming out and showing our lack of support for the Stop Online Piracy (SOPA) and Protect IP (PIPA) acts before the US House and Senate. Now, I am a Canadian and we are a Canadian company (albeit with a global reach), why then take a stand in a battle in the USA?

There are no local battles any more; Not when it comes to the Internet. Public policy is changing around the world and I am afraid that those changes will affect the way you socialize, communicate and take action on the Internet. SOPA and PIPA are (or were) being touted as ways to fight piracy and copyright infringement. Both of these are worthy goals I personally support… to the extent that privacy and rights of netizens are not trampled upon.

Okay, so you might have read that SOPA and PIPA would effectively allow authorities to ask ISPs to turn off access to sites that hosted piracy and other copyright infringement. Well, take a close look at that statement. Indeed an ISP is allowed to make the decision on its lonesome, as long as the ISP is working in “good faith”. There is no recourse to the ISP. The question you should ask is “who is the ISP?” and “what are their other motives for such action?”.

I’m not a believer in conspiracy theories or that companies are blatantly evil. Remember companies are made up of people like you and me. I do, however, believe that ideology, politics and greed can make companies and governments do some weird crazy things. What if the government in some future day decides that a protest against it could be stopped by claiming that Twitter linked to piracy and hence could be disrupted under this law? You say, it can’t happen in a democratic America! Well, history is littered with governments, societies and states that went from democratic to less than democratic, and then abused the previous laws created in good faith.

I am worried about SOPA and PIPA not because of the acts themselves, but what they signify in a world where governments and organizations are starting to feel the power of the people, the power of open communication and the ability to stage protests and gather online leading to offline change (see “Arab Spring”). The Internet is not really all about you sharing your baby photos, the latest movie or the cereal you ate in the morning, it is about the movement of information and ideas at lightning fast speeds throughout a society and even the world. Collectivism has the potential to change the world. Imagine a world where we can finally learn from each other and realize that everyone is someone’s child, mother or father; that everyone wants to do good for their society; that ultimately, regardless of ideology, politics and economics, we could all be better than what we are. The Internet is one tool for doing just that.

Creating “islands”, preventing flow of information, giving centralized organizations the rights to block without recourse… well, all of those will end that dream.

To the Government of Canada, I implore you, look at the policies that have created the amazing innovations that you now have before you from Twitter, YouTube, Google Search and more. Look at the freedom that has allowed developers and entrepreneurs like me to realize such dreams. Do not squash that. Absolutely, make sure that public policy protects those of us who wish for free speech and free Internet but take to task those who abuse freedom at the expense and rights of others. Learn from the outcry and the reaction to SOPA and PIPA.

There is a great article by Sue Gardener of the Wikimedia Foundation about Wikipedia’s decision to black out English Wikipedia tomorrow. Please read.

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