SOPA and PIPA raise questions about freedom of speech

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By Nick Desideri, Columnist

South Koreans are some of the most internet-savvy people on earth. About 80 percent of the population of South Korea possesses a high-speed internet connection, the highest percentage in the world. While this phenomena can lead to an internet addiction or an infatuation with Starcraft, it also has helped South Korean popular culture spread across Asia, and even to the U.S.

But according to a 2011 United Nations report, excessive and imprecise regulations are threatening South Korea’s “active and vibrant” online culture. For a country that recently emerged from authoritarianism two decades ago, throwing bloggers in prison does not seem like the most democratic route.

The United States federal government is making similar unwelcome forays into the internet world. While the perceived dangers of the Stop Internet Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) may have reached unrealistic highs, the legislation still threatens to limit speech in a way unfitting of a supposedly model democracy.

Other than the fact that SOPA is a House of Representatives bill and PIPA passed the Senate, the two both seek the same objective: to stop the distribution and piracy of copyrighted material. The legislation allows the federal government to seek court orders against foreign websites that infringe copyright, whether by hosting or assisting others to violate it. U.S. websites would then be forced to stop interacting with the offending site. Also, search engines could not show the offending site on search results.

I’ll admit, copyright violation is a bad thing. The music industry is hemorrhaging money. The RIAA asserts that it lost 12.5 billion dollars annually from pirating. Even if you believe the RIAA is an evil, money-hungry leviathan, piracy is stealing.

But like Korea’s internet regulation, SOPA and PIPA are frighteningly vague. Yes, downloading a leaked copy of Adele’s album would constitute as piracy. But a range of other activities could also count, such as an amateur remixer uploading some work on Youtube, or Grayson Chance’s Youtube rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” might also get pulled.

Up-and-coming Singer Lana Del Rey recently encountered a similar problem. She uploaded her music video, which was a collage of retro footage, only to be forced to take it down because one of the sequences was copyrighted. Remember the Youtube/Viacom debacle? Imagine it even worse.

SOPA would not just stunt Youtube. It could also harm internet staples like Google, Facebook, and Twitter. All of the aforementioned came out in opposition to SOPA and PIPA. Yes, they are all corporations. But unlike the monoliths like Time-Warner that are pushing Congress on the bills, the aforementioned allow expression and an exchange of art and ideas across the internet.

Worse, this relentless protection of copyright stifles innovation. The only reason Korean Pop music became as popular as it did in America is through piracy. Internet pirates would upload the videos on Youtube to massive view counts. Only after Korean businesses adapted by forging an agreement with Youtube, to upload the videos by their own volition, did they begin to profit from the popularity surge. And they beat the pirates at their own game.

SOPA and PIPA represent the worst of corporate America. Instead of adapting to new realities and a changing market, entities like the MPAA and RIAA moan and whine a restrictive piece of legislature through Congress at the expense of American citizens’ self-expression.