Net neutrality is a huge issue in today's society. Much of the first world takes fair and equal internet access for granted. In fact, the internet has become such an important tool for communication that the UN has declared internet access a human right, one which a government would need very good cause to censor. But there is another side to this on going debate. Last month Representative Lamar Smith announced SOPA, also known as the Stop Piracy Online Act. In short, SOPA would make websites responsible for the content posted by their users, and effectively make violating a sites terms of service a felony. SOPA, like it says aims to stop piracy online, but in the process would allow for sites to be blocked because of users posting unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content (that cover your band did of a famous song? Yep, that counts. The tribute video you made using copyrighted music as the soundtrack? That counts too). Basically a few bad apples would spoil the batch, and cause a website to be blocked. Obviously this poses a threat to website owners because their lively hood depends on web traffic, and having an entire country (particularly one as large as the US) being unable to visit would significantly reduce their traffic. To combat this, websites would have to moderate everything that is posted, and effectively restrict everyone's ability to post freely.
Last Wednesday (November 16th, 2011), Congress had a hearing on SOPA. Despite a massive, almost instantaneous response from the internet, including web giants such as Google, Yahoo and Facebook, the hearing in Congress hardly mirrored this. Of the six people invited to testify, five were proponents and only one opposed SOPA. Thankfully despite a bit of a shaky show against SOPA that day, it appears that there is still significant support where it counts; Congress. House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi tweeted this message last week regarding SOPA "Need to find a better solution than #SOPA #Don'tBreakTheInternet." Outside of Congress, the main opponents of SOPA are large tech giants, those who make their lively hood through a free and open internet, whereas the proponents of SOPA are largely film and record companies, those who suffer from online privacy. While the goal is noble, the method is outlandish. Ultimately SOPA doesn't look like it has a very promising future, but it's a scary possibility that cannot be ignored and needs action, and soon. If we don't act quickly, we may be seeing a lot more of this in the near future.