STU prof calls American bill “intrusive”

On Jan. 18, everyone woke up to a similar sight: Some of the most popular websites had nothing on them.Wikipedia, Reddit, the Cheezburger websites, XKCD and others were all replaced with information on a bill in the American House of Representatives.

The sites went black in protest of SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act. The bill was sold as a way to stop the downloading of pirated movies and music, but some saw it as opening the door to government censorship.

The protest worked, as plans to draft the bill have been postponed.

If the bill passed, the effect would have been a form of censorship, said Shaun Narine, chair of St. Thomas University’s political science department.

From reading he has done, Narine said SOPA seems to be “unnecessarily intrusive and quite ominous.”

“All along the way [if the bill had passed] you would have ended up with people either losing access to websites or you would have people continuously second-guessing things that they can allow links to. Plus you would have people basically being concerned if they ought to allow links at all.”

Narine said it was amazing how quickly the Senate abandoned the bill after getting complaints.

“All Wikipedia had to do was shut down for a day. And that’s it.,” he said.

“Within a matter of hours, some of the senators who were sponsoring the bill withdrew their sponsorship.”

Daniel Power, a St. Thomas University student, had much stronger words to say about SOPA.

“The United States is taking a position where they’re kind of infiltrating people’s personal lives and…it’s kind of going overboard,” said Power. “I feel that the internet is a way to really to express your own views.”

If the bill had passed as it was written, it wouldn’t have just been the Americans who were feeling the blow.

Even though almost every popular website is based in the United States, there would have been other effects for Canadians, said Narine.

“The main impact it would have had on Canada is the fact that the laws are actually, in some cases, directly against foreign internet service providers and foreign internet websites and so from that point of view, clearly, Canada is a foreign country.

“There are websites based in this country that, in theory, could have ended up with information on them or links on them that…gave access to material that was protected in some way.”

This would have led to the websites being shut out of the American market.

Although this bill has been halted in the Congress, it’s likely that similar legislation will resurface in the future.

“What’s interesting about this case is that the attempts to create this very draconian law which came from these particular companies, the masters of Hollywood basically, and the push back from it came from another money industry, namely the internet industry as based out of Silicon Valley.

“You had money versus money and in this particular moment you had the Silicon Valley people [playing] their hand very well.

“I suspect over the long term you’ll end up with some kind of a compromise that will enable the moneyed interests in Hollywood to get along with the moneyed interests in Silicon Valley.”

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