Democracy-Supporting Innovation Under Threat from Congress

author: Jesse Friedman
date: 2011-12-15 19:11:45+00:00
slug: democracy-supporting-innovation-under-threat-from-congress
title: Democracy-Supporting Innovation Under Threat from Congress
wordpress_id: 3607

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    Editors Note: In Dd’s work around the world, we have seen first-hand the critical need for ordinary citizens to access unfiltered content online. Take Thailand, where we have profiled the work of journalist Chiranuch Premchaiporn who has faced jail time for content posted to the comment section of the news site Prachatai. Currently, legislation is afoot in US Congress that reminds us all too closely of internet rules that have negatively impacted the lives of our partners abroad. Dd welcomes our newest Advisory board member, Jesse Friedman who guest authors this post:
    You may have heard about SOPA, the innocuously-named yet frighteningly over-broad Stop Online Piracy Act. If you believe in the power of technology as a social and economic good, and think that due process of law is a good thing, now is the time to take action against this noxious bill that’s zooming through the US House of Representatives. If you are an American citizen, you can call your representative now to voice your opinion on it: image

This past year has demonstrated the astonishing power of Internet technology to effect change for the better, and shown the potential for more to come. From Arab Spring to the Occupy movement and beyond, we’ve seen policy brutality exposed on YouTube, movements organized on Facebook, and conversations and events "broadcast" in real time through novel live-streaming technologies. None of this would have been imaginable just a few years ago.

As an employee of a tech company and a member of Digital Democracy’s advisory board, I’m terribly concerned that if SOPA were to become law, this blossoming of empowerment through web-based innovation would grind to a halt. In the name of copyright enforcement, SOPA gives corporations outsized and unchecked power to stop the business of perfectly respected sites, without due process of law. (For a bit more detail, here’s a good infographic and a great video.)

The chilling effect on innovation on the Internet could be awful in two major ways. First, entrpreneurs would be severely discouraged from creating any website that hosts user-generated content; one errant link out to a site that illegally distributes copywritten content offshore, and they could be shut down in a week without any court involvement. Second, SOPA would institute a censorship regime on the Internet in the US, both by effectively compelling individual websites to review all their user-generated content, and also by empowering the US Attorney General to rework the plumbing of the web and block access to sites.

The recording industry says that SOPA’s opponents are overreacting, that we can trust them to judiciously apply these unprecedented powers of corporate thuggery to go after only really bad guys. But their track record of intimidating helpless individuals with huge lawsuits says otherwise. Plus, the way the law is written, just about anybody could make spurious claims or even outright lies about a site and still get that site shut down.

A broad base, from web entrepreneurs to news editors to human rights organizations to even the recording industry’s hometown LA Times, has slammed this bill as a huge step backwards for freedom, due process, and innovation. If you’re in the US, add your voice to the chorus, and tell your congressperson right now that they need to vote against SOPA. Just put in your name, phone number, and zip code and you’ll be connected directly to their office:

I’ve joined Digital Democracy because I believe in the need for technology tools to be harnessed to empower the voices of marginalized groups and ordinary citizens to fight for their human rights. I hope you’ll join me and millions of others in working to keep the web a safe and healthy place for innovation and political action by voicing your opposition to SOPA today.
Jesse Friedman is a member of Digital Democracy’s advisory board. He leads marketing for Google Politics & Elections, and is part of the company’s team resisting SOPA.