Information, is power. Those in power know it, which is why they instinctively fear it and seek to control it. Think North Korea, China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, etc., etc.
And if Senator Patrick Leahy has his way, you can add these United States to that list as well. Under the guise of enforcing copyrights and stopping counterfeits, Senator Leahy’s recenyly filed bill will give the US government power to ban access to Internet sites “dedicated to infringing activities” – a vaguely defined and easily bendable term if there ever was one. There appears to be no “fair use” exception anywhere in the bill, and Tailgunner Pat wants to set up not one, but two, blacklists of government-banned Internet sites. One list appears to need no legal action at all for your sites to end up listed – just a Justice Department “determination.”
Welcome to ‘transformative change’ meets free speech.
While the idea of protecting copyrights and stopping product counterfeiting are indeed legitimate roles of government, the vagueness of this bill makes the temptation to abuse it almost irresistible when it comes to suppressing political speech. The government is already trying to do that now, even without the law. The Federal government currently has laws on the books covering both copyrights and product counterfeiting, including in the digital world, so this bill seems to make no sense. If it passes, how long do you think it will be before some lobbyist or government flunkie uses it against a site or sites they dislike, with the excuse it linked to a ‘copyrighted’ news story, or posted embarrassing government data, or parodied a ‘trademarked’ graphic? Even if the claims aren’t sustained, ISP’s and webmasters will quickly feel the pressure to self-censor to avoid it even happening.
Which is, perhaps, exactly the point of this legislation – to make the ISP’s and webmasters restrict content so their employers’ and clients’ websites and domains aren’t digitally ‘disappeared’ by the government. And in doing so, we will return to that time when a select few – dead-tree editors, TV and entertainment producers, and government spin-masters – will once again be the sole gate-keepers of mass information, and control what is, and is not, approved content – and what is, and is not, approved news.
This bill could have easily been called The New York Times and Madison Avenue Profitability and Viability Protection Act.
Our Founders knew that information is power, and knew that if power was to rest in the hands of a free people, so must information. That is why they put severe restrictions in the First Amendment on government when it came to the control and distribution of information. You have to ask yourself: What part of “Congress shall make no law…” does Senator Leahy not understand?
Those who have profited from the symbiotic relationship between Big Government and Big Media in the past century – whose ox has been gored by the Internet and truly democratic journalism – have been looking for a way to put the genie back in the bottle since Matt Drudge and Napster first appeared. They have long sought an end run around the First Amendment, and if this bill becomes law they will have gone a long way to doing just that.
Cross-posted at Red Stick Rant.