A lot of people have been talking about SOPA, the “Stop Online Piracy Act”, which is a bill currently breezing through the US Congress like chicken pox. So, I’m hoping I can shed a little light on what the Internet will look like after SOPA is passed–or at least, my perception of what it will look like.
Intentions vs. Reality
It’s my understanding that SOPA was meant to, well, stop online piracy. The congress seems to think that enacting censorship laws and the like is the perfect way to control what happens on the Internet. They seem to think they have a pretty tight grip over that medium.
In reality, though, an oppressive law–or even a slightly offensive law–has always been easily circumvented by the Internet’s citizens (netizens, as some call them). Consider the recent situations in China, in Libya, in Iran….people don’t sit down and bear it when a government takes an oppressive tack towards the Internet, they stand up and help! Hackers across the world have helped people use proxies and the like to evade firewalls and censorship, but the US Congress thinks that it is different.
But that’s not the only problem with the Congress’ reality. They also appear to think that this law will be a deterrent against piracy. I’m sorry to inform them, however, that the American youth with which I’ve been acquainted are not so easily deterred. Especially when a law is so blatantly unjust, they will not only ignore the law but *actively rail against it* with great fervor. This may not manifest as protests on college campuses, as that era seems to have come and gone, but it will almost certainly manifest in an increased rate of online piracy attempts. If the Congress intends to hurt the web and imprison many well-meaning young people, they have a lot of explaining to do!
Ramifications in Politics
Of course, the practical ramifications as listed above won’t be the only effects. The politicians who support it and vote for it will be voted out of office. It’s not the case that those politicians will be unable to find support–the few people in the MPAA and RIAA will still vote for them, and the portion of Americans who fail to keep up with online news (anyone who only reads the newspaper, for example) will likely not care about the incumbent’s voting record. But any young person, savvy with technology, will undoubtedly step in to not only vote for the challenger, but also campaign feverishly against the incumbent who was so unfair to the web.
Ramifications for Free Software
If the FSF has any sense left, they’ll be jumping on this issue as much as possible. I’d suggest they go on various news channels, to start. They should also make appearances at debates and town hall meetings, to put as much pressure on the candidates as possible. If people associate the FSF with Internet justice, they will likely associate them with digital justice in general. That effect would be a great one for the FSF, which has of late been rather quiet.
Three big things are (hopefully) going to happen very soon: Increased opposition to SOPA, the ousting of its supporters, and the rise of the FSF as a viable political entity. Here’s hoping this year will be a great one for digital freedom.