Thanks to mounting public pressure, the odious Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) has been momentarily stalled in Congress, but it's far from dead. Backed by the entertainment industry and other media giants, SOPA would take a sledge hammer to the Internet in pursuit of cracking down on illegal piracy, allowing domains to be blocked and seized, and website owners held civilly and criminally liable for the copyright infringements of their users. Merely linking to copyrighted material could result in as much as a five year prison term.
So to focus attention on the potentially chilling impact of SOPA, the document sharing site Scribd has launched a strikingly visual protest today, in which their billion or so documents disappear, word by word, right before your eyes. Click through to this memo on SOPA's constitutionality for an example of Scribd's disappearing act, followed by the following warning:
Don't Let the Internet Vanish Before Your Eyes
Congress is pushing through legislation that threatens the future of the Internet.With this legislation in place, entire domains like Scribd could simply vanish from the web.
Whatever the intent of the bill's sponsors, you can pretty much count on SOPA's provisions being abused by people with money and political vendettas to crush Internet startups and suppress free speech. And to understand how, you need look no further than my own annual run-ins with the existing Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which routinely resulted in my YouTube and other streaming video accounts being yanked for weeks at a time, typically during the heart of the election season, thanks to bogus copyright infringement complaints.
That's right, all it takes to prompt YouTube to yank a video, is a single, uncorroborated DMCA takedown notice. And if two or three of your videos receive takedown notices, YouTube will shut down your entire account, pulling all of your videos offline. There's an appeals process, but that takes weeks—much too long when it comes to time-sensitive content.
And which evil entity has harassed me the most with bogus DMCA takedowns? Would you believe TVW, Washington's government access network? YouTube, Vimeo and other services always eventually restored my accounts—because my use of TVW footage was always clearly fair use—but only after election day, so, well, mission accomplished.
Now imagine SOPA's much harsher provisions in the hands of corporations, prosecutors, and other interested parties, and not only might a blogger's videos suddenly disappear, but his entire website... or even the blogger himself. And it doesn't matter if that blogger ultimately wins in court, the legal bills alone would crush the average citizen, and ultimately, dissent itself.
So yeah, if you care about keeping the Internet safe for democracy, now's a good time to tell Congress.