Bills in both the House and the Senate designed to protect intellectual property online may actually represent a move toward Chinese-style internet censorship in the United States.
The Protect IP Act, in the Senate, and its House counterpart, the Stop Online Piracy Act, are both being backed by well-financed lobbies for the United States Chamber of Commerce, the Motion Picture Association of America, the American Federation of Musicians, the Directors Guild of America, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Screen Actors Guild. These organizations all argue that legislation is needed to curtail Internet piracy of copyrighted creative works including major motion pictures and music.
Rebecca MacKinnon, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and a founder of Global Voices Online, sees the legislation differently, as she explains in a recent editorial in The New York Times: “ The potential for abuse of power through digital networks — upon which we as citizens now depend for nearly everything, including our politics — is one of the most insidious threats to democracy in the Internet age. We live in a time of tremendous political polarization. Public trust in both government and corporations is low, and deservedly so. This is no time for politicians and industry lobbyists in Washington to be devising new Internet censorship mechanisms, adding new opportunities for abuse of corporate and government power over online speech.”
Some features of the legislation would ultimately make companies liable for user copyright infringements taking place on their websites thereby creating a system that, much like Chinese corporate “self-discipline,” gives website operators incentive to be very strict about the information they allow to be published on their venues.