On Jan. 20, representative Lamar Smith pulled the SOPA bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has postponed the vote on PIPA, originally scheduled for Jan. 24.
Sophomore Rachel Chen has a talented voice. Inspired by independent artists, she is considering a career as a singer. To share her music with her friends and the rest of the world, Chen created a YouTube profile on which she posts covers of popular songs as well as lesser-known songs by other YouTube artists.
“I kind of want to be a YouTube star like David Choi or Kinna Grannis,” Chen said. “Being a YouTube celebrity, to me, sounds more appealing than being a normal, Hollywood celebrity. On YouTube, you develop a more intimate relationship with your viewers because you see instantly what they think about your videos.”
In the five months since its inception, her YouTube account has racked up over 100 subscribers and is steadily climbing.
Soon, however, Chen may not be able to continue doing what she’s doing now. Two bills introduced in Congress have the potential to censor the Internet and prohibit content creators like Chen from posting copyrighted material of any form.
“(These bills) would prevent me from uploading covers onto YouTube and even Facebook, and it would definitely hurt the publicity that I have and make it harder for me to share my music,” Chen said.
In the House of Representatives, there is the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and the Senate equivalent is the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (PROTECT IP Act). Strictly speaking, the two bills would give government the power to block access to and cut off the funds of infringing Web sites. They would also make any streaming of copyrighted material a felony and hold Web sites like YouTube and Facebook accountable for what their users post.
On Jan. 24, Congress will vote on the issue in the Senate. To “kill the bill,” a number of Web sites will join the largest online protest in history on Jan. 18 and strike in different ways to raise awareness about these bills. Click here to see a complete list.
“In general, people don’t take (copyright laws) as seriously as they should because people don’t often think about what the person who created the work actually did,” business law teacher Holly Hochstedler said. “They think it’s just like an encyclopedia that they should just be able to go to and use when really, it’s somebody’s livelihood.”
Hochstedler said she believes the bill is only trying to enforce copyright laws specifically for the Internet.
She said, “A big problem with the Internet is that it’s so open to everyone, whereas years ago, someone would have to physically steal music and try to distribute them.”
Although she said the bill may be a bit extreme, Hochstedler said she supports the bill in that it tries to protect the artists’ rights to make money from their work.
“It is designed to protect the people who have created the work. If we all put ourselves in their (the artists’) positions, I think it would be easier. We generally don’t have that feeling,” she said. “You’re trying to make a living, and you can’t get any money from it because people are stealing your work. I think that’s what we need to look at when we look at this sort of stuff.”
However, Chen said she disagrees with the bill. She said the bill would prevent her from expressing herself freely.
“I’d have to feel really self-conscious about what I do on the Internet and what I say,” she said. “I feel like it would limit my usage of the internet.”
Government teacher James Ziegler said he believes that freedom of speech wouldn’t be curtailed directly.
“I don’t think, in general, as far as free speech goes, it will have as dramatic an effect as a lot of the critics say,” he said. “I don’t personally believe it will lead to massive waves of government censorship, but it does potentially open the door for that being a possibility.”
He also said people who fear being penalized may alter what they originally wanted to say, thus hindering their freedom of expression.
“This (bill) is geared toward copyright infringements and laws, but things happen in little baby steps. I don’t think that our censorship is anywhere even close to other countries, like China or Syria,” he said. “We’re definitely much more open in free society, but maybe we’re setting up a precedent in that direction in some ways.”
By holding Web sites like YouTube and Facebook accountable for the content their users post, this bill would most likely cause Web sites to self-censor themselves and their users in fear of being shut down.
“These sites could be charged, fined and face serious penalties not for something that they’re sponsoring but even just something that a user of the sites posts on there,” Ziegler said. “In addition, the people who post the material also will suffer the consequences.”
Additionally, new startups would fail due to greater legal risks.
“It could end up hurting ingenuity and entrepreneurship just because, with these penalties that come with it and increased regulation, it may prevent somebody that has a great idea from starting up their own Web site,” Ziegler said.
Congressional hearings for both the PROTECT IP Act and SOPA began on Nov. 16, and the bills are still being discussed. Lamar Smith, the House Judiciary Committee chairman and bill sponsor, stated that he is “open to changes” for the bill and is in discussions with several parties that will be affected if the bill is passed.
Chen emphasized that she doesn’t support the bill. “If they (passed the bill), then I wouldn’t be able to do what I do, and a lot of people wouldn’t be able to do what they do,” she said. “I don’t think it would help society at all.”