Journalists, free-speech advocates protest Internet anti-piracy act that threatens First Amendment

Journalists have joined the growing list of groups opposed to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) under consideration by the U.S. congress, according to the Washington Post. On Wednesday, Dec. 14, the American Society of News Editors sent a letter to congress saying that while the organization "condemns content piracy, regardless of medium," SOPA amounts to an attack on the First Amendment, permitting prior restraint and not doing enough to "protect legitimate free speech rights."

Debate over the controversial bill, which critics say will censor the Internet, began Thursday, Dec. 15, in the House Judiciary Committee, and continued Friday. Aimed at protecting copyrighted materials, the bill would prevent search engines from producing results with sites that contain pirated materials, Internet providers would be forced to block U.S. users from accessing such sites, and online advertisers would not be allowed to do business with such sites, according to The Atlantic. Supporters say the bill would keep media companies that produce music, films, and books from being "robbed" when their works are reproduced illegally online. But the opposition -- including journalists, Facebook, Google, and Twitter -- contends the bill infringes on "the integrity of the Internet, free speech, innovation, and efforts to enhance the security of the domain-name system," The Atlantic said.

PCWorld provides a break down of why people should care whether SOPA passes, as "the bill includes several provisions that will basically break the Internet."

Writing for a Washington Post blog, Alexandra Petri referred to the "nightmare" of having "people who did not grow up with the Internet" attempting to craft a bill that "creates a horrifyingly large censorship authority for the Internet...This bill would require service providers to cut off access to entire Web sites where users are deemed to be engaging in copyright infringement, not take down stolen content they posted themselves. That’s already against the law. But no one seemed to be able to express this."

MediaBistro compiled a list of ways journalists would be negatively impacted by SOPA, including the censorship of articles, the stifling of innovation, and even the end of multimedia and citizen journalism.

A columnist for the International Business Times lamented, "the creation of a legal framework under which the government can stop information exchange essentially at will," arguing that "SOPA signals the end of a free-information age." The writer added for the government and elites, the Internet, Twitter and other such sites mean "too much freedom to assemble, too much free speech, too much ability to exercise the right to overthrow a tyrannical government...The widely-held and perfectly fair interpretation of this law, which is generating some of the most intense criticism of any piece of legislation in recent memory, is one under which the feds would be able to shut down Twitter or other websites at any times it deems such a move necessary. For instance: when people are attempting to organize a protest. If SOPA passes, it will signal the end of this era of open online dialogue that our younger generations managed to create for themselves. We should all rue the day."