The blackout of hundreds of websites tomorrow, including Wikipedia, Reddit and BoingBoing, who are protesting the SOPA and PIPA bills currently in Congress, will usher in a new age of protesting by blacking out their websites to protest these bills. SOPA and PIPA are anti-piracy bills that are currently making their way through Congrses. The passing of these bills (or one of them) will establish an unprecedented limit on free speech in the United States and the world, and will establish a precedent of Internet censorship around the world. Currently, the Internet enjoys every speech right guaranteed in the United States; however, the approval of either of these bills will allow court action to be taken against websites who enable or facilitate copyright infringement.
While I understand copyright infringement is a federal crime in the United States, passing a law of this stature is too broad to be considered constitutional. America prides itself on freedom of speech, and it prides itself on applying strict scrutiny when limiting speech is permitted. However, enabling PIPA or SOPA to pass is undermining everything America stands for. It will prevent search engines from displaying many websites, because if they display them they could be prosecuted. It would disband many websites that stream unauthorized material.
The repercussions of this are immense and too much to comprehend. The Internet as we know it would be no more. It would give way to a lot of “access denied” sites, and it would seriously undermine freedom of speech. It would usher in a new age of self-censorship, which is inherently anti-American.
I could understand if the government wants to pass a VERY narrowly-tailored law in order to curb some of the copyright infringement happening on the web, but to create legislation that does a broad sweep goes against everything America stands for, and should be ruled unconstitutional. I admit, though, even creating a narrowly tailored law would be hard, if not impossible to do. The Internet is its own beast, and it is not something anyone truly understands yet. There are so many facets and voices speaking, it has taken on a life of its own, separate from any one blogger, newspaper, search engine etc. It is a place that anyone can speak, voice their opinion or be a reporter. It is an avenue that connects different walks of life from every corner of the world. It is a beast that is not meant to be trained or calmed, because its insanity and intensity is what makes it so amazing and beautiful. And it is a place that is meant to have every protection under the First Amendment. And for this reason creating a narrowly tailored law that would simultaneously curb piracy and enable free speech to flourish would be hard, if not impossible, to do.
But I am willing to see what Congress can come up with- if they can come up with anything at all.