Today, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on the newest version of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) bill. The bill, which was introduced in late October, would enable the U.S. government and copyright holders to obtain court orders to shut down websites that are associated with infringing, pirating, or counterfeiting intellectual property.
The House Judiciary Chairman and the Stop Online Piracy Act’s (SOPA) sponsor Lamar Smith criticized companies that oppose the bill and said their opposition is due to “self-serving” reasons or a lack of understanding:
“Companies like Google have made billions by working with and promoting foreign rogue websites so they have a vested interest in preventing Congress from stopping rogue websites. Lawful companies and websites like Google, Twitter, Yahoo and Facebook have nothing to worry about this bill.”
While Smith may be confident that lawful companies do not have anything to worry about, the founders of the most successful tech companies in the world do not share his opinion. The founders and co-founders of 16 of the world’s most influential technology companies recently sent Congress a letter urging them to carefully reconsider the many potential dangers of the SOPA bill:
“We’ve all had the good fortune to found Internet companies and nonprofits in a regulatory climate that promotes entrepreneurship, innovation, the creation of content and free expression online. However we’re worried that the PROTECT IP Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act — which started out as well-meaning efforts to control piracy online — will undermine that framework.”
The letter, which was signed by the founders of Google, Twitter, Yahoo, LinkedIn, YouTube, PayPal, Wikipedia, and several other companies, warned that the bill will stifle innovation, deny website owners due process, and hurt online security by changing the basic structure of the internet. In addition, the letter states the SOPA bill would provide the U.S. government with similar censorship capabilities to those used by China, Malaysia, and Iran.
Although one cannot deny that pirated material is a real problem that must be addressed in the near future, the censorship and freedom of speech issues at risk are too serious to ignore.
The hearing can be watched online.