MoveOn.org sent out an e-mail titled “The end of the Internet?” As dramatic as that sounds, it might not be a stretch. From the first line of their message, “As soon as this week, Congress will start debating whether to give the government the power to turn off parts of the Internet.” Just imagine if, say, Egypt tried that during the April revolution. Oh, wait, they did.
But that’s not exactly what MoveOn.org seems to be concerned about. They’re more concerned, I guess, about the implications related to copyright issues. Here’s the example they give as to why this is dangerous: “For example, if you (or Justin Bieber) wanted to post a video to YouTube of yourself singing a Beatles song, a record company could force the Department of Justice to shut down YouTube. Really.”
OK, my complaint has nothing to do with Justin Bieber. (Really.) See, according to copyright law, neither I nor Justin Bieber, nor anyone else, can record a Beatles song and use it in a video without getting the license to do this. That’s the way copyright law has always been. The Internet should not be considered anything that changed things in that regard. It doesn’t matter if you don’t make money or even intend to make money from it, you still need to acquire the right to do so. You’re not going to sell me on this as the big danger of what Congress might do when I create songs myself and want that protection, or at least want the right to be asked for licenses.
What they really ought to be emphasizing is how a government that’s already encroaching on civil liberties for the sake of our “freedom” might use this to head off dissent. Because if the precedent is set, then where does it end? Although, I guess it’s possible the feds would use copyright violation as a convenient excuse to shut down a website that was also disseminating information to dissenters. So maybe MoveOn has this right after all?
P.S. Here’s an article from mid-November at the Washington Post about the bill Congress is discussing: Five Things to Know About SOPA. SOPA stands for Stop Online Piracy Act.