SOPA: Another Government Power Grab

Ah, the Internet. The closest thing left to an actual free market. Sure, it’s not perfect, but nothing is, and trying to make something perfect never works. In fact, it usually makes things worse. But that’s never stopped Congress before (think subsidies), so why should it stop them now?

H.R.3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), seeks to correct the legitimate problem of online piracy by imposing government regulations and mandates that could end up harming Internet security and free speech. James Gattuso, the Heritage Foundation’s Senior Research Fellow in Regulatory Policy, recently wrote a paper on the unintended consequences of SOPA, citing:

“There is no doubt that online piracy is a real problem. Websites selling counterfeit goods, including tangible items, such as branded clothing and pharmaceuticals, and digital goods, such as Hollywood movies, have proliferated on the Internet. Such activity is a form of theft, and the federal government has a legitimate role in preventing it. Currently, U.S. authorities can, and do, shut down domestically based “pirate” websites by seizing control of their domain names under asset-forfeiture laws. But a large number of rogue sites are located outside the United States, putting them largely out of the reach of U.S. authorities.

“SOPA is intended to undercut such rogue sites by prohibiting third parties from enabling their activity.”

SOPA also threatens to disrupt Internet security, by blocking the “resolution” of IP addresses from foreign sites engaged in online piracy by servers in the U.S. This would encourage users to use less secure servers to continue accessing blocked websites.

SOPA would also make hurt free speech. Bloggers on both sides of the political aisle are up in arms over concerns that SOPA would criminalize their sites simply for linking to websites involved in online piracy as part of an informational blog or page. So much for citing sources! Mr. Gattuso argues that SOPA would have other consequences as well:

“The requirement that search engines omit links to rogue sites undercuts the role of search firms as trusted intermediaries in conveying information to users. There are, of course, other circumstances where search engines already omit information and links—for instance, Google routinely screens out child pornography from its search results. But there has never been a government mandate that information be withheld from search results. Imposing such a mandate would represent the first step down a classic slippery slope of government interference that has no clear stopping point.”

Essentially, SOPA could enable the government to dictate to search engines and websites like YouTube what they can and cannot link to. This exerts the government further into the private marketplace and further into the Internet. It disrupts these websites from operating as they do currently and imposes new costs and time-consuming burdens on them as they must commit new capital and manpower to weeding out such sites, even when they never intended any harm in the first place.

While SOPA seeks to solve a legitimate problem, it appears like just another misguided government scheme that could cause more problems than it would solve. Congress needs to advance with caution in order to be better informed and not doom the Internet. This is one of the few issues that conservatives and liberals adamantly oppose and should be terminated.

Related Links:
Morning Bell: The Unintended Consequences of Internet Regulation

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