PIPA and SOPA. That's all I've been hearing about today on Twitter and that is a good thing. It tells me that people are paying attention and doing what they can to stop these acts from being voted in as law. In a nutshell, for those of you who are unaware, both are acts that are geared towards stopping online piracy of copyrighted material and to prevent US-based websites and businesses from doing business with non-US websites and businesses that engage in copyright infringement. This is a good thing.
The bad thing about both acts - PIPA being put forward by the US Senate and SOPA, which is coming from the House of Representatives - is that they will sanction and prevent online business from dealing with foreign sites that are known, however not proven, to be engaging in copyright infringement. If proven, fine. Attack the illegally acting sites. But the ones that are just 'known' to be engaging in them? Come on. Doesn't our legal system say 'innocent until proven guilty' somewhere? What's next, sanctioning those sites that the government merely thinks and feels are doing illegal business? We are a nation of laws, not whims.
The other problem is that this 'protection' can only lead to blanket censorship of the internet and, eventually, to an internet that is no longer free but one that we, the users, will have to pay the government some ridiculuous tax or use fee in order to publish our material. For one thing, there is a fundamental right in this country of freedom of expression. For another, the internet is a viable, living entity that honest people use for business. Commerce relies on the internet. Small businesses get in touch with customers and potential customers through their websites and e-mail services that allow them to compete with the deep-pocketed conglomerates in their same fields.
I am a writer. I'm on the verge of getting my debut novel out to the public. Hopefully, I'll generate some sales of my novel and develop a fan base that will support my work and want to read more fiction I write. I can't do this as easily, quickly and effectively, as an independent writer and publisher, without a free and uncensored internet. Even writers and other artists who have the money and agents and the backing of big publishing houses, art houses and music labels rely on the internet to promote their art and generate an income.
Sites like Twitter and Facebook are important to people like us. They, and the internet as a whole, are also important to the 'everyman.' Since moving to American in 1985, I'd lost touch with many friends. Through Facebook, I'd managed to find them and reacquaint with many of them and some of them - in fact, the majority of them - live in other parts of the world. I have family members all over the world too and the internet allows us to keep in touch. Before the widespread use of the internet, we relied on letters and phone calls. Sometimes snail mail would get lost. Once, I received a birthday card from my dad in The Philippines more than a year after the birthday for which it was intended. In the past, phone connections weren't always reliable. Today, the efficiency of the internet has made snail mail service better. Phone calls are clearer and cheaper thanks to services like Skype, Yahoo! Messenger, FaceTime and Viber.
The internet is a great thing. Yes, there is piracy out there and it has to be stopped. All crime has to be stopped. However, it's not the internet and the freedom of its use and non-censorship that has done this. Just like a gun can't kill unless someone pulls the trigger at someone else, the internet is also just a tool. The government is going to make it harder for us honest individuals to use the internet for business and pleasure by attacking the tool and not the illict user.
Please, keep freedom of expression alive. Keep the internet free and uncensored.