But before you whine and complain about how stupid/inconvenient/unfortunate it is, I really need you to understand that we’re facing the end of the internet as we know it if the Stop Internet Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate are passed. The internet was designed around free exchange and the idea that users should be able to determine the content they want to see and access it freely and openly. I was born in 1990, y’all. The only thing I really remember about a time before the internet was the fact that I had this cool Encarta Encyclopedia CD-ROM, which suggests that I didn’t have THE ENTIRETY OF EVERYTHING THAT EXISTS AVAILABLE TO ME WITH THE CLICK OF A FEW BUTTONS. I once wasn’t able to instantly access music by people in various other countries, or read the innermost thoughts and advice of people around the world. I am a Millennial girl. I am a child of the internet. I spend more hours interacting with it than with anything else in my life on a daily basis.
And I refuse to let it be overtaken by corporations. I refuse to sit idly by while my source for free information and access to programming and media I might otherwise never see disappears. I refuse to accept the idea that the internet could, for all intents and purposes, be owned by corporations who could sit around in board rooms deciding what they think I should and should not be able to see. Why do you think I don’t own a television? Content determined by anyone other than users is SO 15 years ago.
This guy from the Washington Post explains it better than I can. SOPA (and it’s Senate equivalent, PIPA):
gives content creators the power to force ISPs, search engines or payment services to shut down access to a Web site that the owner believes violated its copyright. On its face, the bill is designed to stop access to foreign Web sites that are profiting off of stolen content. (U.S.-based business can simply be dragged into court.) In reality, it’s much more insidious than that.
Say a French company just started a social networking site in which users can upload videos of themselves singing. Now let’s say some kids upload a video of themselves singing their favorite Britney Spears song, not even playing back the original recording but simply singing along innocently to a song they like.
In the eyes of Spears’s record label or any number of parties associated with her continued cash flow, that might very well look like an instance of piracy — and indeed, major labels have had content pulled off YouTube for similar “violations.” All the label has to do is send a letter to someone such as your ISP and request that the service stop routing traffic to the offending site, and, boom, no more French-sharing site for U.S. Internet users. And what’s really scary is that U.S. Internet service providers have immunity when it comes to what they can pull from their networks, so that French site might not even have a clear path to resolving the issue.
Now take that concept and begin to apply it across all the places you could potentially find “infringing” material. Sites about art, sites about movies, sites that let users generate content of all types — some of that content containing pieces of other work that should be considered fair use by any modern standard. Suddenly, a lot of destinations on the Internet will begin to look like island vacation spots — that is, they’re really hard to get to. And the impact won’t just be cultural or legal; the technical workings of the Internet itself will be dramatically affected.
I have a doubled interest in stopping these crazy laws as not only an internet user, but as a content-creator. This blog has become more important to me than I could have ever possibly imagined, but under SOPA, corporations could decide that some of the things I do on this blog, like posting images I don’t own (even when I cite my source) or uploading unofficial YouTube videos, are felonies worth up to 5 years in prison. Not to mention that YouTube would cease to exist…or at least, to exist as anything other than VEVO. Google and other search engines would be forced to remove sites that are deemed to host unauthorized content from their search results. Blogging as both an industry and a pastime could be wiped off the face of the internet. Voices would be silenced. The internet serves as the ONLY platform for honest and open discussion of many issues. Modern-day activism could come to a grinding halt.
And so, more than just writing this blog post, I’m taking an active stand. I changed my Facebook and Twitter profile pictures to an image meant to represent government-sponsored internet censorship (and so did a quarter of my Facebook friends who have recently changed their profile pictures!). I’m sharing articles like a mothafucka. AND, most importantly, I sent the following letter to my local Congressional representative:
Net Neutrality is the cornerstone of innovation, free speech and democracy on the Internet.
More than 2 million Americans have expressed support for Net Neutrality at Congress and the FCC. They want control over the Internet to remain in the hands of the people who use it every day.
Please stand with the public by protecting Net Neutrality once and for all.
As a 20-something in today’s society, I’ve grown up on the internet. I trust it as a source of free information and use it for many hours a day to meet many of my needs. I also publish lots of my own content, and my father runs an online business, and it would be truly unjust for either of our sites to be affected by the end of Net Neutrality. People of my generation and every generation depend on the internet; don’t let it be fundamentally and irrevocably changed. Don’t let the American values of free speech and free commerce be trampled on. Please support Net Neutrality. I recognize that very serious infringements are regularly being made possible by the internet, but there must be other, less potentially damaging, ways to protect corporations against such infringements and punish wrongdoers. Please vote against SOPA and the PROTECT IP Act, which could very well do more to censor legitimate free speech than to control the illegitimate spread of intellectual property. Please protect American consumers and maintain the free, open, user-determined nature of the internet by supporting The Internet Freedom, Broadband Promotion and Consumer Protection Act of 2011.
I’m begging you.
Princeton University, Class of 2012
I contacted my representative via this site: http://www.savetheinternet.com/
And I’m asking you to spare 30 seconds of your time to do the same. They have a petition you can sign, or a pre-written letter (the first three paragraphs of the letter above) that you can just attach your name to and send.
Your actions will help save life as we know it. I’m not going to lie, it’s ANNOYING. AS. FUCK. to have Wikipedia, Reddit, xkcd, WordPress, Mozilla, Colorlines, and other major websites down today. But imagine if they were gone forever.
(And before anyone criticizes me for not doing my own blackout…I wanted to. I just didn’t know how.)