Unless you’ve been living on a remote, uncharted island unknown to the rest of the world with only a bloodstained volleyball to keep you company a la Tom Hanks in “Cast Away,” chances are you’ve heard of the recent attempts by lawmakers to censor and monitor copyrighted material through IP addresses in the U.S.
The Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act (commonly known as SOPA and PIPA, respectively) aim to stringently criminalize actions ranging from streaming a song to downloading the most recent episode of your favorite show from a third-party site. Carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison, both have been hailed as necessary legislation to enhance protection by supporters and a proverbial guillotine to creativity and innovation by its critics.
Despite a recent blackout across thousands of popular websites including Wikipedia and Reddit which effectively sidelined both bills for the interim, the fight for a free Internet isn’t over. The European Union has recently ushered the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) into final negotiations with several supporting countries, with global repercussions.
Tracing back to talks between Japan and the U.S. in 2006, the agreement is slated to go into effect pending final approval from the European Parliament in June of this year. If enacted, its scope will not only include pirated films and music, but will expand in scope to penalize intellectual property in virtually all forms, affecting fan fiction, healthcare, economics, surveillance, trade agreements, airport security and even the belongings you carry on your person.
Think of it as SOPA and PIPA’s burly, boozed-up father with a pair of steel-toe boots and a nasty grudge.
Choosing to ignore ACTA and the potential devastation it could cause is one of the most detrimental pronouncements anyone who believes in free speech to any degree could possibly make. Already, countries including Japan, Canada, Poland, Australia, Finland and even the U.S. have ratified ACTA with little fanfare, keeping the public eye staunchly out of deliberations.
The time to rise against backdoor capital motives and hushed dealings is overwhelmingly upon us. The civil rights movement of the digital age is at our doorstep. We must not buckle or turn away for convenience’s sake.
Though I understand the plight of artists seeking compensation for their work and respect the underlying frustrations of copyright holders who lose out in these scenarios, I cannot help but lament the stubborn nature of legislators to progress with the times.
If the current model is truly broken, then wouldn’t their efforts be best spent drafting a modern, rational solution over an outdated, excessive one? It’s as if they’re saying it’s better to expect duct tape and a stern finger to fix a leaky pipe than actually replacing it.
On net neutrality, Tim Berners Lee, creator of HTML and the World Wide Web as we know it, stated “When I invented the web, I didn’t ask anyone’s permission. Now, hundreds of millions of people are using it for free. I’m afraid that’s going to end in the USA.” If the mastermind behind the technology itself is concerned, don’t we have reason to be concerned as well?
Though I hardly see this particular facet of lawmaking disappearing any time soon, it’s important for us as students to understand the impact and ramifications of issues of this scale. Without the concern of the people to serve as a check to the agendas of politicians at large, we can be certain that such acts could become plausible truths, a dangerous and scary reality.
Do yourself a favor, VCU. Read the fact sheets. Write your congressperson. Get off the island and join the fight for a free Internet and a better tomorrow.
Or, at the very least, hand your favorite artist a $5 spot next time you see them live for that album you downloaded last week.