Editorial: Congress Will Cripple the Web
November 28, 2011
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Introduced in October of this year, the PROTECT IP Act means to protect American companies from copyright infringement that runs rampant on the Internet. While its intent is honorable—one that appears to uphold artists’ creative merit—the PROTECT IP Act will ultimately become a channel for companies’ self-interest as they seek to attract as many profits, and as little government hassle, as possible.
PROTECT IP stands for “Preventing Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property.” The Act will give Congress—both the House of Representatives and the Senate—the ability to wield legal authority over Internet content, which has up until now been controlled almost wholly by site users.
However, Congress is not the only one with power. Internet providers such as AT&T and Comcast will be able to censor sites as well to keep their own names free of scandal. User-oriented websites such as YouTube and Twitter will also have the power to censor their constituents. They, too, will become wholly focused on appeasing the entertainment industry.
The creative content this bill seeks to protect is exclusively that which is copyrighted by the entertainment industry. It has an entirely monetary motive. However, anyone who has perused YouTube can say that not all content on the Internet is copyrighted or backed by multimillion-dollar corporations.
It would appear that the entertainment industry is trying to get in on the profit-heavy realm of the Internet. However, as it currently stands, there is no way that entertainment corporations would be able to match the contributions the Internet has made to modern culture. In terms of raw revenue, the Internet far surpasses any profits made by the corporations of the entertainment industry. With that in mind, the PROTECT IP Act would be a futile and petty way of leveling the playing field, pandering to complaints and lacking merit.
Should this act pass, websites like Youtube, Twitter, and Facebook, which thrive on contributions from individual users, will be faced with a threatening dilemma. Even if these service providers immediately eliminate any published content that infringes on copyright, the government under this new act claims the right to sue any providers who commit said infringement.
To avoid selection for the attorney general’s “blacklist” of sites operating outside of this act, service providers will be forced to hire employees to meticulously comb their sites for any trace of copyright infringement. At this point, we begin to wonder where website administrators will draw the line, and whether the intentions of this act will escalate to a case of strict censorship.
Rebecca MacKinnon of the New York Times raised the excellent question of why service providers would “invite legal hassle when [they] can just hit “delete,” and introduces potential repercussions for this act. The greatest fear is that the United States will become a censorship-riddled nation, much like China. While it seems unlikely that the US will rise to that level of censorship (such as blocking search results on Google, including the iconic “Tank Man” photograph), the PROTECT IP Act gives the government the means necessary to become the kind of authoritarian nation we’ve always despised.
It is possible that Internet providers will go further than just censoring their own content and move on to attacking the content of newer, less established sites. If a well-known Internet corporation hears of a web-based start-up company, perhaps a new search engine, the larger corporation can easily target the new one for copyright infringement, whether the newer site is guilty or not. This presents a formidable barrier to entry for fledgling Internet companies, as their nearly monopolistic counterparts would rather there be as little competition as possible. Without competition, there would be next to no incentive for Internet providers to improve their services, thus depriving the Internet of any future innovation.
PROTECT IP keeps information and content from the public on the government’s orders. The very basis of our country condemns this act as wrong. The United States was founded on the principle of freedom of expression, among other unalienable rights. Regardless of economic gain, the government should never bar the public’s access to content, whether copyrighted or not.
This act would be better suited for an age where information was not so readily available. It is true that books should not contain content taken from other works without attribution. However, the very basis of the Internet is that it combines the creativity and efforts of billions of people. That is far too wide a range to be stifled by a pesky, selfish law.
The Internet must not become the playing field of corporations. Its essence lies in its reliance on user activity and content. If it were otherwise, it would cease to be a public forum, but one huge, convoluted advertising campaign, purchase necessary.