This post was originally written for a college assignment. Students were to pick a topic from a list and then form an argument as to why the topic is the greatest threat to founding principles of the World Wide Web. A 500 word limit was enforced.
Laws such as PIPA and SOPA are the greatest threats to the founding principles of the World Wide Web. These laws didn’t do something as simple as de-indexing pages from search engines, but instead went the extra mile and proposed that internet service providers themselves blocked access to the websites. The internet was founded on two ideals. First, that the internet would be a “common information space in which we communicate by sharing information”. Sir Tim Berners Lee stressed that ‘universality’ was key to this common information space, and this is achieved by having an internet that can be accessed by anyone around the globe. However, if laws are passed that allows websites to be entirely blocked, people from “around the globe” won’t be able to access all websites, completely contradicting that dream. The second ideal is that the internet would become “a realistic mirror […] of the ways in which we work and play and socialize”. Casual use, illegal use, business use, the internet has been used in any scenario you can think of. Viewpoints as well, whether they be liberal, conservative, moderate, and more radical, all exist on the internet. Allowing vague claims could potentially be used as a political weapon to silence opposing viewpoints and disallow the ‘realistic mirror’ we have available, not to mention freedom of speech.
Of course, It’s important to realize the “intent” of these laws was to allow intellectual property to be respected on the internet. That is indeed a well deserving intent, as new companies absolutely need that protection to survive. However, the law was written so that it could have easily been abused. Websites could be accused of violating copyright law even if the reason was vague, which could cripple websites with user submitted content like Youtube or Facebook. We don’t need to turn to slippery slope fallacies or hyperbole to see this fear realized. In fact, YouTube is currently dealing with ‘copyright scares’ constantly relating to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. In this scenario, whenever there’s a video take down request, a creator’s videos may be removed, monetization disabled, and even account removal depending on severity of the ‘offense’. This is bad for creators, as some have their entire living is made off of YouTube and other content creation. Allowing this to become a reality for any website, especially as the web moves to more user-created content, will hurt creation and people’s willingness to share information and voice their own viewpoints. This topic is more serious when you consider America’s position as the leader in free speech around the world. If we pass more laws that allow easy censorship, it’s impossible to tell other countries that would certainly abuse the same laws that they’re doing it the wrong way.
Edit 6/18/2016: Preface was updated.