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Congress needs a grammar lesson

POSTED February 7, 2012 10:45 p.m.

Are we trekking on a course towards disastrous censorship? As long as two poorly- worded bills loom in Congress, this appears to be the case.

For individuals using the Internet on a regular basis, the issue should sound familiar. Simply put, the Stop Online Piracy Act (or SOPA) introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith, and the PROTECT Intellectual Property Act (or PIPA) introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy both intend to curb any aid on the part of U.S.-based sites to foreign piracy organizations in thieving and selling copyrighted material. SOPA, however, differs slightly from PIPA by extending its limitations to include restricting the streaming of copyrighted material without official permission.

SOPA remains in the House, while PIPA is being debated in the Senate. If both pass the Senate, it will be up to President Obama to decide if they should be implemented.

News of the possible passage of SOPA and PIPA unleashed overwhelming resentment across America. For 24 hours on Jan. 18, Wikipedia in the English language ceased to operate, Google blacked out its famous logo, and an estimated 7,000 other enraged sites either turned partially or entirely inaccessible or posted information to educate their users about the new legislation. Marking a crucial stride in the opposition, approximately 4.5 million individuals in a single day signed Google’s online petition to protest the bills under a memorable “Congress, can you hear us?” headline.

Thankfully, such large criticism has helped make a number of politicians reconsider the passage of the bills and work towards refining them. 

At first glance, some individuals are puzzled on the basis of the opposition surrounding SOPA and PIPA. After all, don’t both bills simply center on the concept of undermining piracy as we know it?

While this may be ostensibly so, and while I am able to conceive the well-intentioned motives behind the bills, the issue here appears to be a case of poor wording. In other words, SOPA and PIPA are unclear on the extent to which something is considered pirated.  This leaves me, along with a number of enraged Americans, wanting to know where the line is drawn in proclaiming that a site has connections to pirated material.

For instance, under SOPA and PIPA’s current structure, a site is in danger of being accused of piracy if it is found to include an advertisement which relays to another site that can somehow be linked to contain unauthorized copyrighted material.

As Wall Street Journal reporter Jennifer Valentino-DeVries expressed in a WSJ Digits segment, “It’s also a concern who’s determining what is a pirated site…and if you’re a site that gets blocked, how you fight that.”

I am particularly angered that the bills will threaten the very free flow of information the Internet is supposed to offer to a generation raised around a belief of independent media. A large part of my dismay about the two bills is derived from a concept about the internet itself.

When the Internet as we know it emerged in the second half of the twentieth century, an aura of excitement sprung about as individuals were encouraged to explore and enhance the new e-frontier that was inconceivable to previous generations. It is disheartening to learn that we have arrived at the point in which vigorous restrictions must be enacted because we have taken advantage of this invention and probed beyond the limits. It is only a larger dismay to learn that bills, such as SOPA and PIPA, which attempt to mend the destruction caused by piracy only further threaten to destroy the very well-being of the Internet.

As CBS News reported shortly after SOPA was barraged with waves of disapproval, “Google, which owns YouTube, says the language is so broad that videos of teenagers dancing would be banned because of the copyrighted music playing in the background.”

This brings up another point in the issue. I cannot seem to understand why the bills would need to meddle with such aspects in which no monetary value is attempting to be obtained. 

It is clear to me that, in order to ensure the proper effect, SOPA and PIPA ought to be focused more on sites directly centered around piracy instead of essentially threatening American access to the entire World Wide Web. 

  — Henna Hundal is a high school student and resident of Turlock. She writes a monthly column on matters related to youth and our society.

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