Let's talk about something shameful. Online censorship.
One of the reasons why the internet grew at the rate it did was because people felt liberated and freed by it, the ability to say anything and read anything at any time. View content from across the world in a few seconds, created by someone like you. Soon, this shape of the internet might change drastically. Enter SOPA.
What is it?
Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is a bill that's proposed to become a U.S. Law, soon to be voted by congress. Basically, it's a censorship program, which would allow corporations, through intimidation of multi million dollar lawsuits, to close any website they deem are infringing their copyrights. If those websites refuse to close, they could go straight to the companies that host the domains and servers of said websites and sue them instead, giving the corporations such as RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) the power to basically squash any little bug that's smaller than them.
Why is this so bad?
Basically, anything that even slightly breaks the copyright laws is liable to get censored. Even more, websites that host user submitted content are liable for what those users are saying. So if anyone posts lyrics of a song in Facebook, for example, then the copyright holders could force Facebook to block that post unless they wanna face legal action. There go all those lovely song covers in YouTube, any tribute band hosted in MySpace, etc..
Let's make believe SOPA passed on the year 2000, which websites would probably have never existed (or would have been extremely less successful)?
and many, many more.
What is the drive behind SOPA?
Nothing else but greed. The reason why these corporations see this is necessary is because they are "losing over 100 billion dollars annually". What the mean is they are not earning those 100 billion (allegedly, this figure is probably fabricated and false) on top of their already multi billion dollar earnings. The musicians nowadays live a much wealthier lifestyle than those in the 50s or 60s when piracy was nowhere to be seen. The movies keep breaking income records year after year. Movie stars are paid millions of dollars for 3 months worth of work, more than any normal human being will make in their entire lives. Socialites out of stupid reality TV shows are paid thousands of dollars just to show up at an event.
Why is it ridiculous?
I think everyone can figure out their own reasons to find this bill extremely laughable but worrying at the same time. For me, it's a couple of reasons. First of all it's so against everything the United States of America is usually proud of, "freedom". It is sadly funny to see how America opposes countries like China, Iran or Syria censoring their internets for the sake of religion or government control, and now they're bound to pass a law for the sake of making fat corporations even fatter.
Secondly, it's a case of bullying. It's exactly like that fat, big, not so bright bully at school, getting what he wants by force. Instead of adapting to the changes of the times, these corporations are looking to stomp on change and innovation. They are crying because they didn't have such ideas first. With this attitude not only would they be crushing already existing content, but also hampering the growth of new ideas, companies, and ventures. A study shows that venture capitalists would be extremely fearful to invest in new start-up companies in fear of the legal consequences.
Lastly, some copyright infringement actually leads to earnings for these companies. I have, on many occasions accidentally, come across new bands I had no idea about in YouTube videos which used them as a background music.
For example, this famous video by MadV has a soundtrack by Mogwai, which led me to download (yes, illegally) some more of their music and ultimately to become a fan. Remember this post back from summer? Yes, I paid 75 euros to attend a festival with friends mainly to go see them play and I loved the experience, and will go see them again if they play here. I am sure many people have examples just like this where "illegal" content is actually doing something the record companies have failed doing these past 10 years, advertising and promotion.
I'm not American, why should I worry?
As we all know, the western world has a tendency to follow on the footsteps of the US, whether we like it or not. There are other initiatives in the U.S., such as the PROTECT IP, which could be implemented even if SOPA fails, and more worryingly, something international is being pushed called ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) which, quote, "the current draft of ACTA would profoundly restrict the fundamental rights and freedoms of European citizens, most notably the freedom of expression and communication privacy."
What are our weapons?
Luckily, there is a lot to be done by many people. Many huge internet ventures like Google (by extension, YouTube), Facebook, Mozilla, Wikipedia, to name a few. The president of the United States, Barack Obama, has said he would move to veto this bill, but the congress could still overrule him. Hopefully, even if it becomes law, the Supreme Court could deem it unconstitutional (which it is, see link below), and scrap it.
Visit this website to learn more about what can you do in your current position, be it as a webmaster, just a user, US citizen or not.
Funny anti-censorship comics
SOPA is unconstitutional
A list of companies supporting SOPA