Will Santa save us from SOPA?

18 Dec 2011

Will Santa save us from SOPA?

Yes, free internet, there is a Santa Claus. At least, many hope the advent of Christmas will sufficiently delay the approval of the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that many internet CEOs believe will stifle the free internet, and lead to one of the world’s biggest nations implementing a controversial set of laws that will stymie innovation and censor the web as we know it.

Last week, the CEOs and founders of some of the biggest internet companies including Google, Twitter, AOL and others wrote an open letter warning that the proposals would deny website owners the right to due process of law, undermine security online by changing the basic structure of the internet and give the US government the power to censor the web using techniques similar to those used by Iran, China and Malaysia.

Proceedings began in earnest but were held up by a comedy of errors, including ironically a tweet that caused the indignation of one representative when another representative described her deliberations as “boring”.

Many had hoped the proximity of the debate to Christmas might lead to its postponement until after the holiday break and a more considered and less rushed debate would follow.

However, the US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee will continue its hearing on SOPA on Wednesday, 21 December, leading to fears SOPA will be rushed through.

The battle is effectively one between new media and old media. SOPA is backed by millions of dollars of sophisticated lobbying by Hollywood and the music industry, which are, in fairness, indignant at the loss of revenues by the wholesale downloading of copyrighted material.

Google’s Sergey Brin warned last week that SOPA in its current form contains draconian measures that will have a “chilling effect” on innovation.

This is a debate that has long been coming but the speed at which SOPA is being pushed in the US could result in a new era of court battles and web monitoring that could only serve to put a roadblock in the way of a dramatic two decades of unrivalled innovation.

Will the internet’s third decade be one of freedom or censorship?

The third decade of the internet as we know it needs to be one of clarity and fairness.

Copyright holders should be rewarded for the content they created and own. I don’t think the internet industry disputes that assertion.

The bigger worries here are free speech, innovation, entrepreneurship and ultimately, creativity, too.

The recording industries are right to fight their corner and protect jobs, but this is a debate that has been rumbling on for more than a decade now without any serious forum for debate or collaboration by old or new media.

Proper considered debate and partnership, not draconian rules, need to happen. The entire recording industry’s future lies in the hands of the very innovations that new media have delivered – from streaming and smartphones, to tablet computers and social networking. It’s a bigger debate that doesn’t deserve to be rushed through at the speed of light.

Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. But dear, free internet, the Grinch may steal Christmas yet.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years