The SOPA bill is working its way through Congress with little fanfair. Most people have not even heard of it. Yet its implications are similar to those of the recent bill that allows the government to indefinitely detain American citizens without respecting constitutional rights.
We in America have great freedom of information, whether its streaming movies, music, television shows, or reading news, following sports, etc. We all stream information in some way through the internet. For the most part, we have to trust websites to go through legal avenues to bring us this information. It is up to a website to agree to and respect copyrights and trademarks. But with this new bill, there is a new level of power that companies will have to control web content. And this goes beyond protecting their own brand. It can be used to stop small businesses from being able to start their own websites.
How? Well, the language of the law is very vague and open to interpretation. It has been argued that, giving private businesses the power to censor the internet for copyright protection will inevitably lead to them using that power to stifle competitors. If you recall, there was another bill not too long ago that would have allowed ISPs to reduce connection speeds or block access to certain sites at their discretion. It was argued in that instance that such an act would lead ISPs to blocking access to sites that related to their competitors. It would be the equivalent of a GPS made by Toyota that steers you away from car lots that sell Fords. Why should you trust one company to let you have free access to their competitor if they can choose to stop you?
The concern is the same with SOPA. There is nothing in the bill that would limit the use of this power: no hearings, no justification, no legal oversight, nothing. A company can simply go out there, find a website, and shut it down. It doesn't matter if that website infringed on their trademark or not, they can still target them. Imagine if I wrote a blog post about how much I hate Pepsi. What stops Pepsi from blocking my website? Nothing.
There is already technology devoted to shaping people's online appeal. There are companies that advertise how they can alter how you look online by suppressing negative reviews and bolstering positive ones. If this can be done now, imagine what SOPA could do. Instead of simply suppressing bad reviews, the company can completely censor them.
We in America have freedom of Speech, and until now the Internet has been a safe haven for that. But with things like SOPA being debated in Washington, it may not be a free exchange of ideas for much longer. I don't believe in piracy of copyrighted content, but censoring everyone to stop a few makes no sense, and infringes on our liberties.