Censored: Congress members propose new Internet bill
By Patrick Nicholson and Suproteem Sarkar, Staff Reporters
It’s quick, convenient and illegal. And for some students at Conestoga, online piracy is a routine. But one new Congressional bill aims to stop piracy in its tracks.
In October, Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) introducted the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) to the U.S. House of Representatives. If SOPA is passed, any international website committing or facilitating piracy will be subject to “technically feasible and reasonable measures designed to prevent access.”
The U.S. Department of Justice would be able to prevent such sites from receiving American advertising, search engine links and web traffic upon receiving a complaint from a copyright holder. Some Americans are concerned that this law means the government will have too much control over the Internet.
SOPA “is too broad,” said T/E Director of Technology and Services Robin McConnell. “Copyrighted material needs to be protected, but the way that [lawmakers] are going about it raises questions. The restrictions that they put up are high hurdles in the place of small technology companies.”
If Congress passes the act, websites based on user-submitted content would also be legally responsible for copyright-infringing material posted by users.
Fighting infringement “is a noble goal,” sophomore Caroline Mak said. “But there’s so much online that [the bill] might overstep itself and block sites that are never meant to be about piracy. If someone commented [illicit] links on an honest website, the site [would be] taken down.”
Social media websites such as Tumblr and Reddit protested SOPA when it was first debated, encouraging visitors to call their representatives. Mak said that she first learned about the act on Tumblr, a social blogging site, after the website mock-censored all of their content in an attempt to protest against SOPA.
“If that happened permanently, I would be mad. [SOPA] might end up blocking things that don’t harm anyone,” Mak said.
Some, such as freshman Collin Jenkins* believe that even if the bills were passed, neither bill would be effective to fight piracy. Jenkins, who pirates music several times a month, said that his piracy habits would not change if the act passed.
Piracy is “bad, but it’s really hard not to do,” Jenkins said. “Even if [Congress passes] SOPA, I’ll find a way around it. The Internet is a giant network that is not managed by one group. Piracy sites should live on because the government should not have the right to censor the web.”
Senior Joe Plastino agrees that such a bill would not be strong enough to fight piracy.
“We would basically inflate a non-issue into a huge issue, and it would be a detriment to the whole Internet. [SOPA] seems like a waste of time to me,” Plastino said.
Jenkins also argues that SOPA may infringing on the privacy of ordinary citizens. To expose websites that are hosting pirated content, SOPA may require that Internet service providers monitor data sent from a user’s computer.
“I don’t want people looking at my web traffic,” Jenkins said. “That’s for me and me only.”
Unlike Jenkins and Plastino, freshman Fiona Copeland believes that SOPA is a step in the right direction. As an aspiring author, she said that she might lose income to piracy and supports measures to curb it.
“I love writing–it’s my passion,” Copeland said. “It’s just sad that others can steal my work. [Piracy] needs to be stopped because people are not getting the credit they deserve.”
Because of such concerns over students stealing content off of the Internet, McConnell said that the district tries its best to educate students about the pitfalls of piracy. Media center teachers explain intellectual property rights to students beginning in the elementary schools.
“We respect copyright at all levels,” McConnell said. “Intellectual property rights need to be valued and respected—not taken by others and passed off as original work.”
As the debate about the anti-piracy bills rages on among both ordinary citizens and members of the government, students are still split on which side to take. Unlike some Americans, Copeland knows where she stands on SOPA.
“It is a loss of privacy, but it still needs to be done,” Copeland said.
*To protect the privacy of the student interviewed, his name has been changed.
Patrick Nicholson can be reached at email@example.com.