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The U.N. characterizes access to the Internet as a human right, and government research in the U.K. and in the U.S. shows the enormous humanitarian benefits of network access for poor and vulnerable families: better nutrition, education, and jobs; more social mobility and opportunity; and civic and political engagement. Yet the services that provide the bulk of these benefits—search engines, Web hosts, and online service providers like Blogger, Tumblr, Twitter, Wikipedia, and YouTube—could never satisfy the requirements set out in SOPA. The only way for these platforms to satisfy SOPA would be to all but shut off the public’s ability to contribute and to throttle free expression for all but those entities that can afford to pay a lawyer to certify that their uploaded material will not attract a copyright complaint.

Another group of important entities that could never satisfy SOPA are the civic-minded hackers and security researchers scrambling to improve the Internet’s Domain Name System (DNS). In 2011, the DNS was attacked several times, including a breach attributed to the Iranian secret police, which used forged certificates to allow them to impersonate governments, banks, and online e-mail providers like Gmail and Hotmail. If passed, SOPA would ban the production or dissemination of tools that could subvert its blocks, and that would include tools the world’s technologists are creating specifically to help defeat government censorship and surveillance. Many of these efforts and tools are actually funded by the U.S. government, and some, like the Onion Router (TOR), are used by U.S. armed forces intelligence services as well as struggling Arab Spring revolutionaries.

Bad Policy

With SOPA, the entertainment industry has codified a doctrine that holds that the level of control given to copyright owners should grow in inverse proportion to the difficulty of copying in the digital age. But copyright policy is now Internet policy, because anything one does to limit copying is a shackle on the Internet and all of its uses, high and low. And because almost everything we do in the real world has an online component—a trend that will only continue until everything we do requires an online component—Internet policy will soon be, simply, policy. With this in mind, the creative industries’ advocacy for SOPA comes with a total disregard for humanitarian consequences, and it betrays a depraved indifference to everything except their fears.

Recently, Viacom sued Google’s YouTube service and asked the court to take away users’ ability to tag their videos as private. Why? Because a video that is only visible to friends or family is not visible to Viacom’s copyright enforcement tools. Many of us are agog that a large corporation would ask a court to rule that our right to communicate about our personal lives in private is subservient to its efforts to increase profitability. The chutzpah is astounding.

SOPA, however, makes Viacom look conscientious by comparison. SOPA would put the world’s ability to communicate freely about anything—movies, music, or books; or government corruption, police violence, employer malfeasance, and military atrocities—behind the entertainment industry’s desire to secure its business models, because, under SOPA, there would be no way to create an Internet platform for free public discourse that could satisfy the level of control demanded by these firms.

As the Internet grows, we can always discuss business models and ways to properly address digital piracy. But the literary world should never be on the side of censorship.

Visit www.americancensorship.org today to find out how you can fight SOPA.

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