Sites like Wikipedia, Google, YouTube, and Reddit have gone black this morning in protest of The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which threatens Internet independence and free speech as well as a host of other rights. We have long discussed the ever-widening array of criminal and civil penalties pushed through Congress by the powerful radio and television lobby as well as other industry groups. The Obama Administration has been particularly willing to carry the water for these groups over objections from public interest groups. SOPA reflects the power of this lobby and its hold over members of Congress and the Obama Administration. While the Obama Administration has now responded to the outcry by insisting that it will tweak the bill, such promises ring hallow given its past efforts to appease this industry and its dishonest statements recently in other areas like the indefinite detention controversy. Notably, the recent admission from the White House that it has some concerns over the bill did not come until the public rallied against the bill — another indication of the control of an industry group in the drafting of legislation. This lobby is not going to go quietly into the night. It is more likely that it will work with the White House and Congress to achieve the same purposes with an incremental series of laws — if it does not simply win outright.
The radio and movie industry has shown zero concern over free speech and other rights in seeking to protect profits. The bill has sweeping implications in the loss of safe harbor provisions and the right to bar Internet sites under vague provisions. Wikipedia, which has taking a lead in fighting this bill, has a good discussion of these dangers. Not only must this bill be defeated, but advocates should force a review of the current draconian and often abused copyright and trademark laws.
The standard approach of lobbyists when faced with public opposition is to pull back while working privately with the White House and Congress to achieve the same results once the fervor has died down. In the meantime, most of the Hollywood stars and recording artists who claim to support the arts and free speech are conspicuously silent as their lobbyists seek strip the Internet of protections. Just as we saw with the pharmaceutical industry, the entertainment industry has given jobs to congressional staffers who have worked for its interests in Congress. Various sites have documented the millions given to Congress by the industry to pass this law.
Sites like Rawstory have links to contact your representatives. I encourage everyone to join this worthy effort. The Internet is the single most important advance in free speech in a century, if not in the history of humanity. While this industry cannot see beyond its profits, the public needs to protect this resource for creative and political expression.