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Battle for the internet: Internet giants take actions against proposed censorship laws in the US

AN ‘INTERNET blackout’ on 18 January by industry giants including Wikipedia and Google succeeded in blocking attempts to pass new laws against ‘internet piracy’ through the US congress.

Reddit joined Wikipedia and Google in the largest protest of its kind by some of the biggest players in the internet industry. The protests targeted the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), which were designed to block access to websites hosting unauthorised copyrighted material.

The proposed acts aimed to give content owners and the government power to seek court orders to force search engines to block content associated with ‘piracy’.

Critics claimed that the bills were so vague and broad that they present a real danger to freedom of the internet. While the US criticises China on a regular basis for its extensive internet censorship, it is currently debating laws which would remove any foreign websites infringing US copyright law.
Predictably, the bills had their supporters, such as Rupert Murdoch and his fellow media barons with their legions of lobbyists.

Other sites, including Twitter, refused to join the protest. Twitter boss Dick Costolo tweeted “Closing a global business in reaction to single-issue national politics is foolish.”

Blunt, but perhaps more honest than Google’s hypocrisy. The search engine involved in today’s ‘blackout’ has been criticised for co-operating with the Chinese government’s efforts to censor online search results.

The proposed SOPA and PIPA laws are yet another infringement on the rights to freedom of speech, but equally they do no more than extend the already existing copyright laws to the online realm. The monopoly control of the majority of the world’s information outlets is one of the single most important factors in shaping our ideas about the world we live in.

This isn’t a clear-cut case of new, pro-freedom businesses against the old establishment. The case of Google, as well as Twitter’s ‘business as usual’ stance, demonstrates that they are profit businesses like any other. As such we must not see them as reliable allies in the struggle to extend freedom of speech and information.

We should oppose any further power to curtail physical or online information industries. But equally we should not fall into the trap of uncritically supporting those for whom economic convenience means they temporarily find themselves defending free access to information.

We support Google and Wikipedia’s protest against the SOPA and PIPA bills. But we need to remember that companies like Google have a huge influence over our lives, with virtually zero accountability to the millions who rely on it.

Although the acts were not passed, this is only a temporary retreat by those attempting to make the internet industry submit to the same property rights that control the distribution of physical-format information and media.

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