HomeOpinion & AnalysisSunday View: Sopa’s threat to Internet democracy

Sunday View: Sopa’s threat to Internet democracy

Wikipedia: a free, web-based, collaborative, multilingual encyclopaedia project which has over 16 million articles — went on a “black-out”, to garner support against the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa).

REPORT BY BETHEL GOKA & NOBUKHOSI NDLOVU

Wikipedia provided none of its 16 million articles on January 18 save a campaign bearing the words: “Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge”, a delegacy of its protest against Sopa.

The Sopa bill was proposed by American companies primarily involved in the movie industry as well as US Congress. Sopa intended to crackdown on copyright infringement by restricting access to sites that host pirated content (money.cnn.com).

The intent appeared to be noble but the ramifications of the proposed bill would have perniciously changed the internet as we know it. Below are some of the contents of Sopa and its sister bill Pipa (Protection IP Act) according to section 102 and section 3, respectively:

 

  • Order ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to alter their DNS Servers from resolving the domain names of websites in foreign countries that host illegal copies of videos, songs and photos. In other words: These websites will be blocked by these Internet Service Providers.

 

  • Order popular search engines like Google, Bing to modify search results to exclude foreign websites that host illegally copied material. In other words the implicated websites would no longer be searchable through popular search engines like Google — “you can’t google them anymore.”

 

  • Order payment providers like Paypal to shut down payment accounts of foreign websites that host illegally copied material. Therefore the “culprits” would not be able to generate money through online payment systems.

 

  • Order advert services like Google’s Adsense to refuse any adverts or payment from foreign sites that host illegally copied content. In other words, these websites would not be able to generate revenue through google adverts and neither would they be able to advertise themselves through the same channel.

Facebook had this to say about the bill:

“At Facebook, we take online piracy and copyright infringement very seriously. Rogue foreign sites that pirate American intellectual property or sell counterfeit goods pose significant problems for our economy. However, we believe the PROTECT IP Act (or Pipa) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa), which are currently being considered by Congress, are not the right solution to this problem, because of the collateral damage these overreaching bills would cause to the Internet.”

In a nutshell, the bill would have an impact on technology companies, and small and large websites across the US, by effectively regulating them out of business through the rigid rules against the free sharing of content — which is what social networks like Facebook, Twitter and websites like Wikipedia thrive on. Apart from threatening the existence of Google, Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia, this bill would have set precedence in internet authoritarianism especially for Africa.

 

This would have sent a green-light to potential despots to impose regulations on the use of the internet or the lack of it. The United States which prides itself as the main proponent of democracy by passing rigid internet regulations would have put a blow to one of the few mediums of free speech and sentiment sharing.

Indeed the demise of Sopa, however temporary is a victory not only for all advocates of free content-sharing and democracy!

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