Can the Internet Be Regulated?
The last few years may have been the era of internet controversies with the amount of stories that were reported. The biggest hot-button issue was internet piracy and bill called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), with the largest players being the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) on one side and Google, Wikipedia, and Reddit on the opposing side.
What is SOPA?
SOPA was introduced in late 2011 by U.S. Representative Lamar S. Smith and a bipartisan group with the intention of fighting online trafficking of copyrighted intellectual property by making it difficult for individuals to copy and share data. This bill was naturally supported by media giants RIAA and MPAA, which have been trying to stop individuals from pirating music and movies online for the last few years. SOPA itself is an updated version of the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), which similarly proposed to curb online piracy by giving the U.S. government and copyright-holders additional control on the web (keep in mind that internet law would be something that is hard to regulate and something that is equally hard to enforce for say a law firm that usually specializes in property tax appeals.
If enacted, SOPA would’ve allowed the government and copyright-holders to shut down websites suspected of assisting copyright infringement and bar advertisers from running ads on accused websites. Proponents of SOPA claimed that the bill would’ve helped create more American jobs by encouraging increased intellectual property creation without fear of works being stolen.
On the other hand, SOPA opponents were worried about freedom of expression. According to Harvard University professor Laurence H. Tribe, SOPA would have “[undermined] the openness and the free exchange of information at the heart of the Internet. And it would violate the First Amendment.” Other opponents were concerned that this would be the first step into censoring the Internet a lá the Great Firewall of China. Indeed, SOPA opposition was strong, large in number, and united. On January 18 of last year, thousands of websites, including Google, Wikipedia, Reddit, Mozilla, and Twitpic, participated in an internet blackout, censoring their own content in protest of SOPA, PIPA, and European equivalent ACTA. It all boiled down to Silicon Valley versus Hollywood, millions of internet-users against thousands of lobbyists.
The SOPA blackout worked; in light of the protests, the very mention of the bill’s name became so unpopular that the bill was recalled days after the blackout. While lawmakers failed to bring SOPA into effect, we can be sure to see redoubled efforts in the future. But now that we’ve all seen how dissenting people can be put into motion over proposed bills to regulate the internet, future proposed laws will surely be carefully written so as to appear to bypass our concerns.
Article written by Jet Russell. Jet works for a law firm specializing in property tax appeals. In his spare time he like writing article on laws and regulations, Especially internet law.