Over the past few weeks many Americans have displayed their outspoken opposition against the Protect Intellectual Property Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act. According to CNNMoney, SOPA would prevent U.S. companies from providing access to international sites that pirate material, making it more difficult for American users to access these sites.
Wikipedia and Google both recently limited content on their websites in protest of these bills. On an online petition, Google describes the bill as potentially censoring the Web and placing “harmful regulations” on American businesses. Google’s tagline for their petition sums up their sentiments: End Piracy, Not Liberty.
I agree with Wikipedia, Google and others that PIPA and SOPA would be a massive overstep of governmental powers. I worry that these acts will result in censorship. However, I have a question for many of those against these acts: “Where was this concern for liberty in recent years?” I am naturally worried when Congress passes any bill that it may curtail freedoms. I have questioned what the National Defense Authorization Act would mean for our liberties as I questioned what the Affordable Care Act would do to my autonomy to make choices regarding my health.
Though many of my peers are against the National Defense Authorization Act, many have not consistently displayed concern about freedom. When the debate about health care reform was in full bloom, I heard many advocate for a single-payer healthcare system, which would end our liberty to dictate our medical needs. Moreover, I heard many people advocating for a cap and trade program where the government would regulate how much carbon emissions a company may emit; this would weaken my ability to punish polluters through my purchasing power. Finally, there is constantly a desire to raise the taxes of the haves and give to the have-nots. If I was in the “1 percent” this would destroy my liberty to enjoy the fruits of my labor.
If those who supported these government-centered policies also supported PIPA and SOPA it would be understandable. Ironically, however, it is often those who support these government social programs who are loudest at rallying against PIPA and SOPA. As I consider this paradox, I can come up with no explanation except people are trying to fulfill their utopia where everyone has free health care, wealth is equally distributed, while they can pirate and stream from the movie studios and networks. Everyone is free to feel opine as they please, but it is crucial to note people’s hypocrisy in the definition of freedom. Liberty is not isolated to speech, but it is also embedded in the way we behave. Part of liberty is freedom to produce a good through one’s effort to sell to a willing purchaser. Though many try, economic and personal liberties may not be separated; once one begins to erode, it is inevitable that the other will too. So my last question is: “Did we bring about SOPA ourselves?”
Raymond Nhan is a third-year political science major.