SOPA and PIPA May Break the Internet, Hurt Consumers, and Chill Free Speech Online

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) are currently pending in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. They are ostensibly intended to stop piracy and protect intellectual property. They won’t work. The approach SOPA and PIPA use to combat piracy are like trying to plug holes in a sinking ship with your fingers.

But the music, movies, comedy, and publishing aren’t sinking industries. They are flourishing. People just paid Louis C.K. over a million dollars for Live at the Beacon Theater, and it was protected from pirates only by Louis C.K.’s polite request not to pirate it. Radiohead now sells its albums itself, and thousands of other musicians, writers, and other artists are doing the same thing. But that’s just the thing. No big media corporations get paid that way, so they are trying to buy relevance by attacking the democratizing nature of the internet.

But it won’t work. SOPA and PIPA will be easily circumvented by pirates. What they will do, as Consumers Union, U.S. PIRG and the Consumer Federation of America explain, is encourage consumers to take greater risks online, increasing their exposure to phishing, fraud, and identity theft. They will censor the web without due process. They will stifle innovation and encourage a sanitized internet that looks (and costs) more like cable television than Facebook, Wikipedia, and Twitter.

SOPA and PIPA will also punish websites like this one, not pirates. Why? As BoingBoing’s Cory Doctorow points out, “in order to link to a URL on LiveJournal or WordPress or Twitter or Blogspot, we’d have to first confirm that no one had ever made an infringing link, anywhere on that site.” That is an impossible task. Instead, many websites will stop linking. Some will go dark. That’s why Wikipedia has gone dark today, along with BoingBoing, Reddit, and many others. That’s what the internet may look like if SOPA and PIPA become law.

All of this adds up to a broken internet.

Why break the internet to protect an industry struggling for relevancy? Contact your representatives in Congress and tell them not to censor the internet. Or take a moment to sign the online petition asking Congress not to censor the web. One more thing: Spread the word. Share it on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter.