Internet Freedom Assault In America
By James Donahue
Here we go again. Our sold-out legislators may have finally found a way to strip that last bastion
of journalistic freedom . . . the Internet . . . from our eyes.
The latest piece of attack legislation is called the Protect IP Act. Introduced by Senators Patrick
Leahy and Orrin Hatch is supposedly styled to block overseas websites from pirating movies, television shows and music and
selling them as counterfeit goods on the Worldwide Web. The act has already received a unanimous vote of approval by the Senate
Judiciary Committee and is up for review soon by the full Senate.
This is the second attempt by push a bill through Congress that would block online infringement
of copyright material. An earlier act, known as COICA, failed to get enough support during its last session.
Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is promising to attempt to block action on this bill, however, because
it has the potential of reaching far beyond just the film, television and music industry in its potential controls.
“I understand and agree with the goal of the legislation to protect intellectual property
and combat commerce counterfeit goods, but I am not willing to muzzle speech and stifle innovation and economic growth to
achieve this objective,” Wyden said.
Critics of the proposed bill warn that it has the potential of creating a “China-like censorship
regime in the United States.” It gives the Department of Justice the power to force search engines, browsers and service
providers to “block users’ access to websites and scrub the American Internet clean of any trace of their existence.”
Not only this, but the bill also allows “any copyright holder” to blacklist suspect
sites that are believed to be stealing protected written or recorded material. This suggests that the bill is designed to
place too much power in the hands of too many people without the protection of any legal recourse for web users that are targeted.
Consequently this threatens a total lack of respect for Internet freedom and the right of free speech as guaranteed by the
The battle over the Protect IP Act is just one more effort to place government and corporate controls
on Internet journalists who have been threatening the television and newspaper communications industries. Early signs of trouble
came in 2005 when a California court questioned whether Internet bloggers qualified for the same protection afforded to journalists
when it concerned protecting information sources.
In other words, there was an effort to determine that writers for non-commercial Internet blog
sites did not qualify as journalists because they were not employed by established news production enterprises.
The problem with that and other rulings of that yoke is
that American journalists are moving from paper print to electronic media outlets. Studies have shown that most people under
30 are acquiring their news via the Internet instead of bothering to read newspapers and magazines.
Because the mainstream journalists are failing to do their
job, many people say they no longer trust the news they get from their daily newspaper or even on regular broadcast television.
They turn, instead, to the Internet, where investigative journalism is still at work..
Thus it is to be said that the Internet is where the real journalists
are working. To single out this new crop of independent online writers as “unprotected” for doing the very same
work that writers for established newspapers and television stations should be doing is wrong and unfair.
Internet has opened the door for new and exciting new innovations in journalism such as Wikileaks, where “whistleblowers”
from governments, business corporations and anywhere that questionable activities have been occurring, have the opportunity
to “spill the beans” under the protective cloak of anonymity.
Journalists in the United States have never enjoyed a “professional”
status. Writers are not licensed to do what they do, and they gain their skills by either working under the guidance of skilled
writers or attending journalism school. Either way, the skill of collecting information and turning it into a news story is
learned the same way.
Where trained journalists choose to work does not change
what they are. Thus a court ruling saying an online writer is not as protected under the law as a newspaper writer does not
Such court rulings and laws like the Protect IP Act are clear threats
to the future of Internet news and information.
Imagine what it would mean if every net service provider
could be ordered by a court to hand over sources of information used in controversial stories leading to potential litigation.
Or worse, if any web news provider could shut down competition with unproven accusations of copyright infringement.
While it is true that many stories published on Internet blog sites are
false, poorly written and misleading, it should be up to the individual readers to determine fact from fiction, not the courts.
It is also true that many web sites freely copy material from one another, or borrow snippets of stories for their own created
opinion works. Is this cause for blackballing the website? Due to the high cost of applying for copyrights, and the slow and
archaic process of acquiring them, we suspect that few operating Internet sites ever bother to seek copyright protection.
For this reason, Internet news flows freely. Once a story appears in print
on one site, you can find its copy on a dozen more sites within hours. In spite of this, we believe the Internet remains our
last bastion for free expression and should be preserved as such at all costs.