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U.S. Bills Could Threaten the Global Internet

At Global Voices, we understand that we, collectively, are the Internet. Our individual participation is what makes the Internet a global conversation of startling depth and variety, but this is possible only because of its open technical and legal structure. Unfortunately, there are powerful corporate and government forces who would prefer to see the openness and accessibility of the web restricted. They seek to deploy censorship and surveillance in the name of enforcing copyright, employing the very tools used to censor the Internet in authoritarian countries, such as China, Iran, and Syria.

Ignoring the warnings of citizens and technologists, United States lawmakers are considering two bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), that are a real and dangerous threat to the openness of the web everywhere in the world. In response, the Global Voices community has decided to join websites such as Wikipedia, Reddit and BoingBoing in “going dark” and will black out the Global Voices Advocacy site for 12 hours on January 18, and display a banner on other Global Voices sites that provides more information about the proposed bills.

Stop SOPA/PIPA

We are an international volunteer community dedicated to amplifying citizen media from around the world. In the last six years, we’ve produced more than 75,000 posts that link to blogs and other citizen content for readers in over 20 languages. Our content is free to use, and free to share. We rely on the open Internet to carry out our mission, and on social media and citizen media websites that allow for simple publication and sharing of content. Platforms like WordPress, Wikipedia, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Reddit, Tumblr, and many other online media production communities host content on which we base much of our work.

The passage of SOPA and PIPA by the United States Congress and Senate would force social media platforms and other web sites that host user-generated content to pro-actively monitor and censor users to prevent them from posting words or images that may violate copyrights. It would raise the cost of participation on these sites for all users worldwide, and could force many social media projects to shut down, especially smaller websites and businesses.

We are concerned this law would will inflict broad damage on the work of digital activists living under repressive regimes, as well as restrict basic speech freedoms around the world. Current copyright laws are occasionally misused in the U.S, and can result in de facto speech restrictions. In countries with less independent judicial systems, abuse of copyright law to repress activism is both simple and frequent.

Global Voices contributors in many countries face increasingly aggressive surveillance and censorship. Several are in prison or exile because of their online activities. Passage of these bills will send a clear message that the US government believes it is acceptable to monitor and censor citizens to identify “infringing activity” which too often is equated with political and religious dissent. Passage of SOPA and PIPA would also give the United States government a disproportionate amount of power to determine the course of the Internet. The result will be a more dangerous world for bloggers and activists, and less free speech for all.

Even though the current version of SOPA was put indefinitely on hold this week, PIPA, the Senate version of the bill, is still alive. And the issues and forces that are driving the passage of a law remain. For this reason, Global Voices is joining the Internet blackout on January 18, 2012.

Recent Global Voices Advocacy posts on SOPA/PIPA:

Other resources for understanding the effects of SOPA/PIPA:

What you can do:

  • If you are an American citizen, Americancensorship.org can help you to quickly communicate with your elected representatives, or help you to join the strike. Learn more about the strike at www.sopastrike.com.

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