Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

The Internet: the final frontier

Courtesy Flickr
Courtesy Flickr

This year, two extremely comprehensive pieces of legislation were introduced in the U.S. Congress. In May, the Protect IP Act (PIPA) was introduced in the Senate, and just over a month ago the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was introduced in the House. Both bills are a cohesive efforts to, as some legislators have summarized, “… prevent threats to economic creativity and theft of intellectual property …” In reality, however, these two bills are simply thinly-veiled attempts at iron-fisted internet censorship that, if passed, will reward the counter-innovative and stagnant tendencies of large corporations at the price of stifling free speech and undermining individual internet freedoms.

For those unfamiliar with PIPA and SOPA, the acts basically legalize blacklisting any website that is thought to be infringing on copyrights laws. PIPA would make it so that links and hyperlinks to allegedly offending sites would be disabled, while search engines would be legally compelled to disable access to the site associated with the offending domain name. SOPA would overturn a process established in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act wherein those alleging copyright infringement must first submit notices of infringement to websites that ask to take down the content in question. If passed, SOPA would simply give copyright holders the power to obtain court orders that legally force ad networks and payment processors to stop doing business with the website in question, effectively strong-arming them out of relevant Internet existence. Additionally, SOPA would elevate the penalty for streaming of unauthorized content to a felony.

One need only look at the proponents of these acts to determine their true motivation.

Support for both acts has been openly voiced by such entities as Viacom, NBCUniversal, the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America. Interesting, as these bills will give the government the power to feverishly protect corporate copyright interests by blacklisting offenders. It is plain to see that these measures are just more corporate knee jerk reactions.

Corporations in the entertainment industry still can’t figure out how to turn a profit to their liking in the digital age, so they’re resorting to politically sanctioned censorship in an attempt to turn out a few more bucks. While they claim to be protecting “economic creativity,” they’re really just equating a citizen who streams a copyrighted song with a murderer.

The acts have rightfully been met with loud opposition from various organizations, including search engine giants like Google and Yahoo!, as well as non-profit and advocacy groups such as the ACLU and Human Rights Watch. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has also been vocal in his opposition to the legislation.

In a press release on the issue, Wyden reiterated the fears of many – that these acts have very real risks that far outweigh the relatively minimal benefits. The Internet, arguably the largest source of free speech and expression in modern society, will be fastidiously regulated with corporate financial interests in mind. As Wyden puts it, “The collateral damage of this approach is speech, innovation and the very integrity of the Internet.”

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt has also voiced disapproval of the potential ramifications of acts like PIPA and SOPA, claiming that these acts are “… simple solutions to complex problems.” Schmidt likens these measures to the heavy restriction of media outlets as seen in countries like China and North Korea, and believes that it could have results on free speech and innovation that are, in his own words, “disastrous.”

The chairman raises a valid point, namely that American digital and online legislation has notably informed and influenced international policy in the past. Setting these sorts of precedents for government-backed online censorship could very easily have extremely negative effects on other countries’ legislation, and on global Internet society as a whole.

As we have all seen, the Internet has become a place for the manifestation of major socio-political changes. However, if passed, these acts could also threaten the ability for the Internet to potentially act as a people’s check against government.

Take WikiLeaks as an example. These acts give the government the ability to legally take down an entire site if one of the domain’s pages contains content that could be alleged to infringe on copyrights. On a technicality, the government could potentially shut down an entire website under the guise of protecting intellectual property and “economic creativity.”

PIPA and SOPA also threaten to impede online innovation.

While heavy hitters like Google, Facebook and Twitter notably – and honorably – oppose these acts, it’s not these household names that have a lot to lose if these pass. However, less established social media and other online startups such as newer search engines will almost certainly be crushed by the effects of these pieces of legislation.

As points out, many sites that are havens for sharing art, broadcasting news and organizing protests have plenty of potentially copyrighted material floating around as well. These sites would be very easy targets for big name corporations to shut down in one fell – and completely legal – swoop under PIPA and SOPA. Sites like Tumblr, Soundcloud and heretofore unheard social media outlets that could be extremely productive but don’t quite have both feet in the door would be on the chopping block.

A video on puts it very well: “[The Internet] is a vital and vibrant medium and our government is tampering with its basic structure so people will maybe buy more Hollywood movies.” While many might agree that intellectual property theft and copyright infringement are bad things, it seems a very simple truth that heavy-handed regulation and possible censorship is not the appropriate answer.

Like most legislation regarding online interactions, the perspective is shortsighted, and the language dreadfully ambiguous; this can and will be used for censorship. According to the Congressional Budget Office, PIPA alone with cost about $47 million to implement – it is absolutely despicable to even conceive of paying our government to censor us. The Internet as a source for the free flow of information must not be stifled for the sake of corporate interest and governmental sovereignty over individual expression.

Dave Coffey is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].


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    BenDoubleCrossedJan 5, 2012 at 11:07 am

    The hush-hush of politics is controlling a segment of people without those people recognizing they are being managed.

    In 1789 The Constitution was established. In 1791 the Bill of Rights became the law of the land.

    For 95 years it was understood that 1st Amendment freedoms of speech, press and assembly were the sole rights of flesh and blood citizens. Corporations had no rights. Newspapers had the right to print because they employed people and not the other way around.

    “The 20th century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy; the growth of corporate power; and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.” -Alex Carey, Australian social scientist who pioneered the investigation of corporate propaganda (see Taking the Risk Out Of Democracy, Univ of New South Wales, 1995)

    In 1886 footnotes to the Santa Clara Railroad case, written by a Supreme Court Clerk who was previously a railroad executive, became the basis for corporations claiming the same rights as flesh and blood people.

    Following reports of serious financial abuses in the 1972 Presidential campaign, Congress amended the FECA in 1974 to set limits on contributions by individuals, political parties and PACs. But politicians exempted the commercial press, because the 1st Amendment prohibits abridging their freedom of speech and the press.

    2 USC 431 (9) (B) (i) The term “expenditure” does not include any news story, commentary, or editorial distributed through the facilities of any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication, unless such facilities are owned or controlled by any political party, political committee, or candidate;

    But we cannot rely on the commercial press to be unbiased and provide the information we need to remain free. Both Republicans and Democrats agree the press is biased and only differ on which networks and newspapers are the culprits:

    A newspaper must at all times antagonize the selfish interests of that very class which furnishes the larger part of a newspaper’s income… The press in this country is dominated by the wealthy few…that it cannot be depended upon to give the great mass of the people that correct information concerning political, economical and social subjects which it is necessary that the mass of people Shall have in order that they vote…in the best way to protect themselves from the brutal force and chicanery of the ruling and employing classes. (E.W. Scripps).

    In my opinion the idea of media being objective was a marketing ploy to sell newspapers:

    “It was not until the 1920s that you really get the notion of professional journalists, the way we think about them today,” says Michael Delli Carpini, dean of the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. “A lot of different schools of journalism started, codes of ethics were developed, the whole notion of the journalist as objective came into play …. of standing outside the story, telling both sides, of being factual rather than opinionated.”

    If the United States Supreme Court defined freedom of religion using the same logic that campaign laws use to define a free press only the church or synagogue “as an institution” would enjoy freedom of religion, not its parishioners!

    “Section 431(9)(B)(i) makes a distinction where there is no real difference: the media is extremely powerful by any measure, a “special interest” by any definition, and heavily engaged in the “issue advocacy” and “independent expenditure” realms of political persuasion that most editorial boards find so objectionable when anyone other than a media outlet engages in it. To illustrate the absurdity of this special exemption the media enjoys, I frequently cite as an example the fact that if the RNC bought NBC from GE the FEC would regulate the evening news and, under the McCain-Feingold “reform” bill, Tom Brokaw could not mention a candidate 60 days before an election. This is patently absurd.” – Senator McConnell

    It is normal for all large businesses to make serious efforts to influence the news, to avoid embarrassing publicity, and to maximize sympathetic public opinion and government policies. Now they own most of the news media that they wish to influence. – Excerpt from The Media Monopoly by Ben H. Bagdikian

    The press exemption divides participation in America’s political process into two categories: The regulated majority, every living U.S. Citizen, candidate for office, political party and political organization and the unregulated commercial media.

    To restore equal protection under law, the “press exemption”, 2 USC 431 (9) (B) (i), should be modified to read: “The term expenditure does not include any news story, commentary, or editorial distributed by any candidate, political party, citizen, citizens group, non-profit corporation, broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication.”

    Every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add… artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society the farmers, mechanics, and laborers who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their government. President Andrew Jackson.

    The 1st Amendment does not guarantee our freedoms but it does prohibit Congress from writing laws that would abridge them. The 1st Amendment was added to the Constitution because some State representatives to the Constitutional Convention feared the power of an over reaching Central Government. State Constitutions are where protections of our freedoms of speech, press and assembly are found. The 14th Amendment attempts to extend Federal protection to the Bill of Rights and in this instance is misconstrued. Only Congress can violate the 1st Amendment and the Federal Campaign Act and the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act violate the prohibitions of the 1st Amendment. Federal Campaign laws abridge freedoms of speech, press by limiting how much money individual citizens and citizens groups can donate to their candidates and issues, and they abridge freedom of assembly by declaring it a crime for candidates, political parties and grass roots organizations to coordinate their advertising campaigns.

    The solution to limiting corporate influence and restoring flesh and blood citizen’s control of politics is not limiting how much individuals and grass roots organizations can spend communicating. There is no Constitutional basis for making political coordination a crime? Does a candidate for office have the responsibility or authority to tell a citizen or citizens group they cannot simultaneously put out campaign materials from the candidate and a grass roots organization that supports the candidate? Where in the Constitution does participating in politics require a candidate or citizen to give up 1st Amendment freedoms of assembly and association?

    UNITED STATES v. ASSOCIATED PRESS – Decided June 18, 1945
    It would be strange indeed however if the grave concern for freedom of the press which prompted adoption of the First Amendment should be read as a command that the government was without power to protect that freedom. That Amendment rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public, that a free press is a condition of a free society. Surely a command that the government itself shall not impede the free flow of ideas does not afford non-governmental combinations a refuge if they impose restraints upon that constitutionally guaranteed freedom. Freedom to publish means freedom for all and not for some. Freedom to publish is guaranteed by the Constitution, but freedom to combine to keep others from publishing is not. Freedom of the press from governmental interference under the First Amendment does not sanction repression of that freedom by private interests.

    But corporate media can be part of the solution if they walk their talk:

    The commercial press is the most well-known promoter of campaign reforms to get money out of politics. Among reasons given is the need to level the playing field for challengers.

    Since the only thing campaigns produce is information for public distribution and the cost of distribution is the origin of much of the need for money in politics, why don’t the commercial media offer to publish and broadcast candidate and issue ads for free?

    Not likely: there is speculation Obama may raise a billion dollars and Republicans 750 million. Campaign season is Christmas for media corporations.

    The corporate method of organization is not going to be banned any time soon. People work in corporations. They invest in them or own them (most are small). Interest groups, from the ACLU to the NRA to, are all corporations too. The persons in these groups have interests, and particularly in the non-profit sector, it’s a method for organizing the so-called 99% so they can pool their resources and be sure they are heard.