Most college students have experienced the moral dilemma that is illegal downloading. Music is expensive, and if we hear a good song, downloading it for free sounds much more appealing than paying $1.29 for it. The vast expanse of the Internet allows access to many websites that provide free streaming of videos and movies that would normally cost money. It is difficult sometimes to see that one click as an illegal act, considering that no harm seems to be done by it.
Yet these free downloads, no matter how convenient, are still pirated and therefore illegal. The Protect IP Act (PIPA) and its companion, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), are two controversial anti-piracy bills that have not yet been passed due to much resistance on the part of huge websites such as Facebook, Wikipedia and Google. While the bills seem to have a reasonable and useful purpose, opponents warn against the imposition on due process and freedom of speech threatened by these bills. As opponents point out, these bills would allow the federal government and copyright owners to prosecute any websites that have or facilitate copyright infringement. Many websites, such as Facebook, Wikipedia or YouTube, could easily fit this description and therefore run the risk of being shut down if these bills are passed.
This effort to shut down any website containing copyrighted materials presents a clear threat to freedom of speech on the Internet. Online piracy is a legitimate issue that needs to be addressed, yet the way in which SOPA and PIPA would go about it has many people and companies concerned, and reasonably so.
On Thursday of last week, the federal government implemented the shutdown of the major online storage website Megaupload. The violators and the non-violators of copyright on this website were both punished indiscriminately in this mass shutdown. The day after, the Senate decided to postpone pushing the bills for a while, in the midst of the general public’s outcry.
As of the present moment, the government’s attempt at eliminating online piracy has not been successful, but it is likely that other similar bills will emerge in the near future. Hopefully these will address the problem of online piracy in a way that does not ignore the distinction between violators and non-violators or sacrifice our freedom of speech on the Internet.