A Strike for Internet Freedom

Categories: Chelsea Green News, From the Editor, Politics & Social Justice
Posted on Wednesday, January 18th, 2012 at 10:30 am by Shay

We’ve been asked by some of our readers if Chelsea Green will go on strike today in solidarity with dozens of larger sites, and hundreds of smaller ones, protesting two proposed pieces of federal legislation that have the potential to greatly infringe upon the Internet and free speech.

The answer is no, we’re not blacking out the site, but we do stand with our fellow online free speech advocates and organizations in opposing the legislation and support efforts to ensure these bills never see the light of day.

Besides, today is more like holding up a protest sign in the street. A good start, but to really ensure the government doesn’t quash free speech and access to information on the Internet action must be taken.

This site has a list of the major players who are on “strike” today to protest these bills — largely because they are rightly concerned with the government given too much leeway to shut down websites allegedly selling pirated material. There is little in the bill that actually combats piracy, rather it gives large companies more tools to shut down sites they deem a threat and using the government and the courts as their sledgehammer.

The bills are known as SOPA and PIPA and they stand for the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which is in the U.S. House, and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), which is in the U.S. Senate.  ProPublica has a cool feature that shows you where your Representatives and Senators stand on the bill.

If you don’t like what you read, drop ‘em a line and let ‘em know. Congress reconvenes on Monday and the Senate vows to take up the legislation despite growing outcry over key provisions.

Here in Vermont, our senior senator U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, is the lead Senate sponsor of PIPA. He also chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee that has jurisdiction over the legislation.

Leahy has collected hundreds of thousands of dollars from lobbyists and organizations who have been pushing SOPA and PIPA. And, last fall the Directors Guild of America feted Leahy in New York City for his “unflagging commitment to safeguarding the content created by DGA members and others in the creative and business communities against the ravages of digital theft and counterfeiting.” Read: He did our bidding and how we’re going to throw him a party.

More than a dozen groups that promote free speech — including the American Library Association and Reporters Without Borders — are urging the Senate Judiciary Committee to tone down the proposed law.

In a May letter to Leahy, the coalition wrote that the bill “makes nearly every actor on the Internet potentially subject to enforcement orders under the bill, raising new policy questions regarding government interference with online activity and speech.”

If pissing off librarians wasn’t enough for Leahy and his ilk, they’ve since upset major Internet companies, too.

Here are a few great sites where you can learn more about the dangers lurking in SOPA and PIPA , including the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The EFF has also set up an easy way for you to contact your federal representatives and voice your opposition to these bills.

As EFF notes, today is just the start of a series of actions. Some of the bigger efforts come next week when the House and Senate return from their “recess” and take up the legislation.

Though Leahy has offered to dump some of the more controversial sections of the legislation, expect the bill to rear its ugly head again. PIPA, in fact, was simply another Internet censorship bill — the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act — gussied up and given a new name. COICA never came up for a full Senate vote, and died a natural death at the end of the last session of Congress. Let’s hope the same happens with PIPA.

Yesterday Leahy castigated the strike, calling it an act of self-censorship that misstates the intent of PIPA. He urged his colleagues to debate and approve the bill next week.

All I can say is that if this “strike” is successful in mobilizing enough people to kill this bill, perhaps we should be thinking more broadly about physical, national strikes across all sectors of the economy to protest bad government policies. You know, the policies that seem to only benefit the 1 percent and leave us 99 percenters behind.

Just a thought.

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