In an unprecedented move, Reporters Without Borders will shut down its English-language website for 24 hours from 8 a.m. EST on 18 January, in protest against two online piracy bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), which are currently working their way through the US Congress.
In so doing, Reporters Without Borders is joining the many other organizations with a special interest in the Internet, such as Wikipedia, the social network Reddit and the French “hactivist” group, the Parti Pirate (Pirate Party), which will make their websites inaccessible tomorrow in a show of opposition to the proposed legislation.
“We have decided to close our English-language website for 24 hours to symbolize the oppressive gag that would spread over the Internet as we know it if SOPA and PIPA are adopted,” Reporters Without Borders said. “These bills would affect an incalculable number of Internet users who are innocent of any kind of intellectual property violation by forcing websites to block access to other sites suspected of vaguely-defined copyright breaches.
“These two excessively repressive bills would lead to an unprecedented degree of Internet censorship and would sacrifice online freedom of expression in the name of combating piracy. It is not right that the country that gave birth to the Internet should now deliver the death blow to digital freedom.
“Such legislation would discredit the US government’s advocacy of worldwide online freedom of expression and would really hurt netizens who use censorship circumvention tools and open-source communities. We appeal to US senators and representatives to reject these repressive bills and to find other ways to protect intellectual property rights.”
Introduced in the US Senate in May 2011, the Protect Intellectual Property Act] (PIPA) would use online filtering to block websites suspected of violating intellectual property rights. It would create a Chinese-style “electronic wall” in which the risks of content overblocking would be considerable. Collaborative websites such as YouTube and Facebook would be forced to police their content to avoid being sanctioned.
Copyright holders could obtain court orders forcing search engines to omit offending websites from their results. Advertisers and online payment services would also be forbidden to do business with these sites, subjecting them to financial asphyxiation. Censorship circumvention tools, which currently receive tens of millions of dollars in support from the US State Department, would be declared illegal, depriving cyber-dissidents in many countries of vital protection.
The PIPA equivalent in the House of Representatives, the Stop Online Piracy Act] (SOPA), goes even further, allowing copyright holders to demand the withdrawal of online content without having to refer to a judge.
According to US academic Mark Lemley, SOPA and PIPA would impose a “death sentence” on websites. Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian described the two bills as “the equivalent of being angry and trying to take action against Ford just because a Mustang was used in a bank robbery.”
Three people who advise President Obama on intellectual property rights said in a statement yesterday that the White House “will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.”
Even if support for these bills seems to be waning in Congress, vigilance is still necessary. A House hearing on SOPA that was due to be held tomorrow has been postponed. The Senate is due to vote on PIPA on 24 January.
Supporters and detractors of SOPA and PIPA continue to wage a pitched battle, with Hollywood and the entertainment industry on one side and, one the other, Silicon Valley, NGOs and “Internet fathers,” who condemn the proposed legislation as a grave attack on Internet innovation and integrity.
In November 2011, Reporters Without Borders joined 40 freedom of information and human rights groups in writing to the US legislators responsible for these bills to ask them to reconsider.
The Blackout SOPA website: www.blackoutsopa.org
Sign the EFF petition: blacklists.eff.org
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