Behind SOPA: Copyright, Censorship and Free speech
At the beginning of 2012, a series of coordinated protests occurred online and offline against Stop Online Piracy Act Bill (SOPA) that expands U.S. law enforcement’s ability to combat online copyright infringement. As this protest involved many influential websites like Google and Wikipedia, it certainly draws national attention on SOPA. Whether censorship should be used online against online materials infringing property rights, as included in SOPA, is the controversial issue. Even though SOPA eventually was terminated by the Congress, things behind SOPA cause further debates. The relationship between censorship, free speech and copyrights in this bill is worth discussing. In SOPA, copyrights are enforced by censorship, but censorship at the same time violates free speech. Although SOPA’s online censorship on unauthorized online material is an effective method to protect internet copyrights, it resistants innovation and compromises freedom of speech.
SOPA aroused public attention from a wide range of protests though it originally aimed to help online business damaged by piracy. On January 18, 2012, websites like Google, Reddit, Wikipedia were all blackout and drew great public attention. According to the announcement left on Wikipedia’s website, they were in protest against Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) which “has the potential to significantly change the way that information can be shared through the Internet.”(Wikipedia, 1) SOPA is designed to tackle the problem of websites that provide illegal download of pirated movies, music and other products. For websites consist of user upload materials like Youtube and Facebook, they are responsible for all the materials on their websites in SOPA. SOPA requires them to filter users’ materials before publish. If materials are copyright violated, they are not allowed to be seen publicly. Search engines like Google are asked to remove infringing materials’ URLs from their searching results. At the same time rights-holders are given exceptional power in SOPA. Right-holders, like Hollywood film studios, can ask to block a URL or even shut down the host website if they find copyright infringement on that website. Internet companies argued that such law enforcement is online censorship and tried to imply the entire online community would blackout after the approval of SOPA by blackout their websites 24 hours.
The most controversial part of SOPA is its mandatory filtering of materials uploaded by users, which is considered online censorship. Early in 1998 America adopted the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, know as DMCA which criminalized unauthorized copy but also created a “safe harbors”. Safe harbors explicitly protected search engines and social networks from prosecution for users’ actions. (Herman, 73) In DMCA host websites are not responsible for users’ copyright violation behaviors and if host websites move users’ illegal materials online after...