The right to access information is fundamental in any open society, the and so is the protection of intellectual property. The enjoyment of one, however, should not infringe on the other. This is ex ofactly what PIPA and SOFA attempted to do. SOPA was a bill tabled in the US House of Representatives. PIPA, on the other hand, was tabled in the US Senate. Both Bills sought to prevent violation of copyrights on the internet.
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While the intention was noble, the means of achieving that aroused concern. Internet providers could be ordered to block the domain names of internet sites on suspicion of a violation. Various companies could also be forced to refrain from doing business with infringing sites. The two Bills failed and were not passed. This paper shows how Passing PIPA and SOPA into law could have caused gross infringements on the right to access information, and freedom of expression,
The drafters of PIPA and SOPA “understood what was at stake” (Gillmor 3). Gillmor is a media expert and author of ‘Media Active’, a book about empowering people as new media users. By making such utterances, Gillmor was by no means in agreement with the proposed “fixes” on internet use. Neither did he support the alleged advantages of; “wresting control of these tools from the masses” (Gillmor 3).
The bills promised a centrally controlled and more open means of communication and dialogue. These claims, made by the proponents of the two bills were misleading and did not reflect the bills’ true intentions. He argues that if the lawmakers were honest, they would have told the public the truth about their intentions. The truth, according to Gillmor, was to regain control over communications and information which the internet threatened to take away (2).
Gillmor’s sentiments are on point and I agree that the intention of the lawmakers was not to “centralize open means of communication”. I add that they found the threat the internet posed to their hold over communication and information unacceptable. To overcome this threat, they had to curb the internet’s utility for everyone. The proposed restrictions threatened to create an economy based on permissions. Permission would be needed from the holder of copyright to quote anything that is protected.
Requiring permission to quote or borrow from protected material would severely restrict freedom of expression. Wood argues that every internet user would be affected in one way or another (4). This move would affect users of information for commercial and academic purposes.
This would have had dire consequences on the education system. For example, a UTA student quoting passages from a copyrighted book would require permission from the author to use the material in academic write-ups. It will also affect professions such as journalism which “thrive on borrowed ideas” (Wood 3).
Wood’s argument that such professions thrive on borrowed ideas is narrow. It gives the unrealistic impression that journalists are not innovative and do not produce original work. My opinion is that, though they borrow and use other people’s creations, they build on the ideas to produce ideas that are understood better by their audiences. I, however, agree that the development of such careers would have been hampered.
The passing into law of the two bills would have led to censorship. These are sentiments expressed by DiMarco (6). DiMarco adds that not only would censorship have been its natural consequence, little would have been achieved in the fight against piracy. He engages the reader in a detailed discussion on how it is impossible to protect movie makers and musicians from piracy.
His conclusion is that the proposed laws could not have done anything to music or movie pirates. I find this argument as simplistic. It ignores the technological aspects of the failed Bills. Details are provided, showing how the measures taken would have acted as a “death penalty” on infringing websites. They would have practically been deleted, and it would be impossible for someone to access information from them.
DiMarco concedes that the problem of piracy is rampant and it costs the American economy millions of dollars in losses each year (3). Hundreds of jobs are lost as a direct consequence of copyright infringements. There is a legitimate problem that needs to be addressed. The proposed moves, however, should present an acceptable solution to this problem.
As a student, I regularly consult different sources of information for academic purposes. There are times when I need to quote this information in my research papers. If I look up certain information and the government limits my access to it, this will amount to an infringement on my right to access information.
The communication industry would have been more injured than assisted by PIPA and SOPA. It is an industry in which individuals rely on other people’s ideas and arguments to support or emphasize their own. Expression of one’s views would have been restricted if they refer to another person’s ideas. The proposed restrictions intended to protect intellectual property, but they would have ended up restricting information accessibility.
Broes and DiMarco are both of the view that the restrictions would have made it difficult for people to communicate (7, 2). I entirely agree with these sentiments for various reasons. For example, various pieces of information may not make much sense without reference to other relevant information. A writer may find it exceedingly difficult to compare his/her views with those of others if permission has to be grated before reference is made.
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The problem does not lie in the requirement for permission to quote or use another person’s ideas. I acknowledge that protection of original ideas and innovations is crucial as it encourages innovative thinking and development. The issue I raise is there was a heavier requirement than to merely acknowledge the source of information. This would have been a severe handicap in communication and exchange of information.
Websites that are suspected of facilitating or aiding copyright piracy would be disabled and completely deleted from the internet. These measures would have been drastic, and in my view inappropriate. They were disproportional to the losses or injuries caused by copyright infringements. I do not trivialize the negative consequences of piracy, but there exists better methods of dealing with piracy than the suffocating those with views to express.
The government, in future, should not propose infringements on peoples’ right to get information from websites that have been censored. The advantages emanating from piracy have been entirely ignored. Those seeking protections from piracy have always known that it comes with increased exposure and a wider dissemination of information. It was, evidently, not an entirely evil thing.
Piracy is a legitimate problem that the government should address. Protection should be provided to innovators and owners of original ideas. This does not, however, validate a blatant trounce on individual rights to information and expression. In my opinion, POPA AND SOPA were just an attempt by the government to repossess its control over information and communication. In the process the right to information and freedom of speech could have been violated.
Broes, Derek. Why Should Your Fear PIPA and SOPA? 2012
DiMarco, Chris. SOPA, The Blackout and What it Means For You. 2012.
Gillmor, Dan. Stop SOPA, or the Web Really Will Go Dark. 2012.
Wood, Chris. What SOPA and PIPA Could Mean to the Tech World. 2012.