SOPA - Why India (and everyone using the Net) should protest

At the time of writing this post, Wikipedia, Reddit and hundreds of other sites are in blackout, as a protest against SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act). Meanwhile, many industry experts, bloggers and journalists have reported in depth on the draconian law, currently before US Congress, which may well be re-titled "Stop the Free Internet".  To understand why the international web community is up in arms against the law, it's worthwhile to read some of the well-written articles about it:


Why SOPA is dangerous by Chris Heald at Mashable
What is SOPA and how does it work? by Nilay Patel at The Verge
SOPA page at Wikipedia which is available through the blackout period


Why should this US law have relevance for India, or for that matter anyone in any country other than the US? 


The web unites us, more than we ever realise. It connects people together, as strongly, and perhaps more strongly than national boundaries ever will. Whether you are a Youtube user uploading a video to the tune of a song from your favorite US artist, or on Facebook, sharing articles with friends, or a member of a vibrant online community like Reddit. In your own life, you will realise many instances of how the web has expanded your world view, your friendships, or your readership, through the discovery of users, readers and like minded people across the globe.


What binds us equally though, is the hidden architecture of the internet and the way it works. Servers which host content across the world, payment gateways, domain registrars, companies which are headquartered literally anywhere. As users, perhaps we do not realise the invisible all-pervasiveness of the web, which is its real power - companies and entities across the world make the Web work smoothly for you. And the beauty of this, is that you do not need to know or care about this.


SOPA threatens to challenge this. SOPA, in the name of preventing theft of US property, proposes to throttle everyone's freedom of expression. Did it matter to you that PayPal, Google, VISA, Facebook, GoDaddy, Microsoft or anyone else was based in the US? It never mattered to me, except that I admired the US as a vibrant cradle of innovation. If SOPA goes through, it will begin to matter, because it will give the government a free hand to crack down on those companies for violation of copyright/ IP by users and they will be forced to crack down on you and me. The bill includes provisions such as blocking search results, taking down domains, shutting payment gateways and Ad Sense. This does not just mean shutting off access to a US audience - it means shutting you off the Net, period.


And obviously, this law does not originate from a concern or interest for the citizens of the US. Laws made for the common good are enlightened and carry a resonance and respect for the freedom and rights of people everywhere around the world - for free speech, security, financial well being etc. Take a look at the list of official supporters of the Bill : it is dominated by movie studio associations, publishers, record labels and government departments. Judging by the reactions of people in the US, this is not a bill that they want passed. This is pressure from traditional media who feel their business is under threat from a vast anonymous entity called the World Wide Web. 


Will killing the internet really solve copyright issues? Can you really control the actions of the 2 billion plus (and growing) base of internet users? Really?


Finally, passing of this law is going to set precedents. And in India, we do not want precedents of this nature. All of us have been reading about the Governments pressure to get Google and Facebook to practice self censorship and self screening for political/ defamatory content. If SOPA was to pass, perhaps we would take it as a precedent to pass laws that police content and take down websites too? And this would not even be about copyright issues, but freedom of speech. 


Till now, I have never used this blog to make political statements. I write about tech and I would like it to stay that way. But I feel I owe this post to the internet and the internet community. For everything it has done for me, for all I have learnt, all I have written and all I have shared. You and I belong to the great worldwide democracy of the internet. And the net deserves each of us, even with a small forum of listeners, to raise our voices and defend it. I would urge everyone in India who loves and uses the Net to read up on SOPA, discuss it, spread awareness and speak up against it. You will, and can, make a difference.

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