On January 24, 2012, Congress will vote to pass internet censorship in the Senate and a similar bill is pending before the House of Representatives. Both, Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and PROTECT-IP (PIPA) in the Senate are misguided attempts to deal with online intellectual property theft. Unfortunately their approach is draconian and goes against the fundamental principles of free speech and fair and equal protection under the law. Furthermore the Acts, as proposed, unilaterally impose sanctions against citizens of other countries without giving them the benefit of the due-process so enshrined in the US Constitution.

Under the Acts, a properly worded letter is all it would take to force a company, like Google to stop delivering search results for a targeted website, or a payment processor to stop accepting payments for a website or an Internet provider to stop delivering service. That’s it, a letter is sufficient to infringe on the rights of a website provider without recourse to due-process. Most egregious is that the legislation targets foreign website operators while leaving US-controlled domain names; .com, .net & .org under the umbrella of the protections of due-process. Unfortunately in their haste, the supporters of the legislation didn’t realize, or maybe they did, that US citizens also own and operate the website addresses they are targeting.

If this is allowed to happen, American citizens could be subjected to retaliatory legislative measures from other countries simply by having a website. Here is an example of one country’s wayward laws targeted at American citizens and the personal cost to the individual.

American Citizen, Joe Gordon was sentenced to two and a half years of prison in December 2011 for insulting King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Gordon had translated “The King Never Smiles”, a book banned in Thailand, and uploaded it unto the Internet while in the United States. Gordon is now serving a prison sentence, while awaiting a Royal pardon, for exercising his right to free speech.

His crime? Insulting the Thai monarch.

The Internet has given us the power to express ourselves and we all benefit from it. As passive readers or active participants the Internet empowers everyone, including those in repressive nations. To espouse freedom and Democracy for other countries while attempting to implement draconian measures is duplicity at its best. Either the Congress is for open freedom of speech and the free flow of information or it is about protecting the self-interests of a small minority.

One need not go further than Rupert Murdoch’s recent Tweeter tirade in support of SOPA in order to understand the fundamental drive for it. Murdoch went on a Twitter rampage shortly after the Obama administration conceded that it had reservations over the controls proposed by the legislation.

Murdoch wrote; “Obama has thrown in his lot with Silicon Valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy, plain thievery”. Murdoch called Google the “piracy leader” through his Tweets. Murdoch used the very system he wishes he could shut off to express his fervent need to control the Internet to his own liking, or that of his pocket book which is probably the same.

That is the fundamental flaw in the legislation in that it punitively punishes innocent infringers by the actions of their membership without giving them the opportunity to respond via the time honored tradition of your day in court. Murdoch’s stance is understandable; his revenues are under heavy stress because his revenue model simply cannot compete in a connected world. Rather than adapt to a digital world, he would rather have Congress pass legislation that he can wield to hold the tide back for him.

Intellectual property theft is a serious problem not only for single-man bloggers but for multi-national conglomerates as well. Intellectual property is the single most important asset the United States is able to actively complete in the world market with, but to create legislation contrary to the fundamental guarantees to the US Constitution is not only foolhardy but dangerous to American citizens.

Wikipedia and Reddit, among other notable websites will go dark tomorrow, January 18, 2011 for twenty-four hours to protest this misguided attempt by Murdoch and his cohorts. You can do your part to thwart a would be attempt to censor the vehicle we have all come to rely on by calling or writing to your Congressmen to let them know you do not support these bills:

Click here for a Directory of Representatives.

The following is a list of cosponsors of the SOPA bill:

Latest Title: Stop Online Piracy Act
Sponsor: Rep Smith, Lamar [TX-21] (introduced 10/26/2011)      Cosponsors (31)
Related Bills:S.968, S.1228
Rep Amodei, Mark E. [NV-2] – 11/3/2011
Rep Baca, Joe [CA-43] – 12/7/2011
Rep Barrow, John [GA-12] – 11/14/2011
Rep Bass, Karen [CA-33] – 11/3/2011
Rep Berman, Howard L. [CA-28] – 10/26/2011
Rep Blackburn, Marsha [TN-7] – 10/26/2011
Rep Bono Mack, Mary [CA-45] – 10/26/2011
Rep Carter, John R. [TX-31] – 11/3/2011
Rep Chabot, Steve [OH-1] – 10/26/2011
Rep Chu, Judy [CA-32] – 11/30/2011
Rep Conyers, John, Jr. [MI-14] – 10/26/2011
Rep Cooper, Jim [TN-5] – 12/12/2011
Rep Deutch, Theodore E. [FL-19] – 10/26/2011
Rep Gallegly, Elton [CA-24] – 10/26/2011
Rep Goodlatte, Bob [VA-6] – 10/26/2011
Rep Griffin, Tim [AR-2] – 10/26/2011
Rep Holden, Tim [PA-17] – 11/30/2011
Rep King, Peter T. [NY-3] – 11/3/2011
Rep Larson, John B. [CT-1] – 11/30/2011
Rep Lujan, Ben Ray [NM-3] – 11/14/2011
Rep Marino, Tom [PA-10] – 11/3/2011
Rep Nunnelee, Alan [MS-1] – 11/3/2011
Rep Owens, William L. [NY-23] – 11/14/2011
Rep Quayle, Benjamin [AZ-3] – 12/13/2011
Rep Ross, Dennis [FL-12] – 10/26/2011
Rep Scalise, Steve [LA-1] – 11/14/2011
Rep Schiff, Adam B. [CA-29] – 10/26/2011
Rep Sherman, Brad [CA-27] – 12/7/2011
Rep Terry, Lee [NE-2] – 10/26/2011
Rep Wasserman Schultz, Debbie [FL-20] – 11/3/2011
Rep Watt, Melvin L. [NC-12] – 11/3/2011

Freedom of Speech needs to be protected and nurtured or we will lose it. Take action and let them know you care.

Martin Paredes

Martín Paredes is a Mexican immigrant who built his business on the U.S.-Mexican border. As an immigrant, Martín brings the perspective of someone who sees México as a native through the experience...