Letter to the Editor: SOPA article misses crux of the debate

I was pretty disappointed by the opinion piece titled “SOPA and PIPA not popular, but needed.” The piece misses the crux of the debate. The problem with SOPA and PIPA is not that they censor free speech (they do); the issue is that they give the government the power to shut down any website that violates copyright, including (here’s the important part) any website that links to copyrighted content. There’s a reason Google, Wikipedia, Reddit and Twitter opposed SOPA/PIPA, and it’s not about free speech: if they aren’t free to link to content, they don’t function. Wikipedia and Reddit blacked out their websites in protest of SOPA/PIPA, but also to demonstrate what the Internet will be like if the bills pass. Think about it. What does Google do? It provides links to websites. I’m frustrated that the piece condemns Wikipedia’s choice to blackout its website as “not normal” to educate people about the problems with SOPA/PIPA, yet does not bat an eyelash at the huge sums the entertainment industry is spending to protect its profits by lobbying for these bills.

My other issue with the piece is the cursory description of the group called “Anonymous.” The piece makes no effort to inform the reader about the group beyond their hacking activities, but two minutes of research is all you need to find out that the group is the pseudonym for users of a website called 4chan.org, which is by no means a legitimate organization. Instead, the piece lumps 4chan.org in with Wikipedia, Google, and other legitimate organizations — and then blames all the opponents of SOPA/PIPA for 4chan’s hacking! This is the equivalent of being angry at all Muslims for the actions of al Qaeda; it’s insulting and wrong to consider al Qaeda as existing on a spectrum with all Muslims, as if Islam is a religion under which people might legitimately arrive at the beliefs of al Qaeda. I understand the weight of the comparison, and I do not make it lightly. I simply take issue with the carelessness with which the piece treats those opposed to the bills.

The piece suggests that we are allowing “expedience and convenience (to) outweigh the morality of our actions,” but by that logic anyone who has used Google or Wikipedia is a criminal. The crucial lesson from this debate is that “piracy” is not so easily definable, nor is every person who views copyrighted content without paying for it an inherently immoral person. Moreover, do the entertainment moguls think that if they shut down every bit of copyright infringement on the Internet, people will suddenly go buy DVDs and CDs of everything they’ve been downloading? Piracy will never disappear completely, and people are not unwilling to pay for content — they often simply need better and cheaper access. Yet, the entertainment industry is willing to shoot their nose to spite their face, and take much of the Internet with them in a misguided attempt to protect “intellectual property.” Who loses? We do.