American Internet Policy: Made in China?


A recent study sponsored by Columbia University’s The American Assembly project revealed the prevailing American attitude towards copyright infringement. The article can be found at this link The study reveals a people who overwhelmingly oppose the goals of the Congress in seeking to pass the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) and the “PROTECT IP Act. Some highlights of the study include:

  • Solid majorities of American Internet users oppose copyright enforcement when it is perceived to intrude on personal rights and freedoms.69 per cent oppose monitoring of their Internet activity for the purposes of enforcement. 57 per cent oppose blocking or filtering if those measures also block some legal content or activity.
  • Comparable majorities (56 per cent) oppose government involvement in “blocking” access to infringing material. This number increases to 64 per cent when the term “censor” is used.
  • Disconnection from the Internet, in particular, is very unpopular, with only 16 per cent in favor and 72 per cent of Americans opposed.
  • Legal media services can displace piracy. Of the 30 per cent of Americans who have ‘pirated’ digital music files, 46 per cent indicated that they now do so less because of the emergence of low-cost legal streaming services; among TV/movie pirates, 40 per cent

Despite the beliefs held by the American people, their Congress seeks to quietly hand the “keys to the kingdom” to corporations and others whose interests do not align with freedom of speech.  Companies such as Google reject this legislation, further AOL, Ebay, Facebook, Twitter, and Yahoo have already given written statements to lawmakers to oppose SOPA and PIPA. These companies rely on your ability to freely express your ideas or resell legally acquired goods. Ask yourself if there would be a YouTube, Facebook, or even Word Press if this legislation was passed a decade ago?

David Rohde explores the issue of censorship in China and compares it to the current move by Congress to pass SOPA and PIPA.  Mr. Rhode observes that China has most of the world’s internet users and is the most sophisticated at censoring the ideas consumed by those users.

China’s 485 million web users are the world’s largest online population. And the Chinese government has developed the world’s most advanced Internet censorship and surveillance system to police their activity. * * * But the (SOPA and PIPA) legislation is far too broad and will unintentionally bring elements of China’s censorship regime to the United States.

Under the current proposed legislation this power will not only belong to the government, but to any content holder with an axe to grind. If the financial crisis in this country has taught us anything, it should be that the “bottom line” cannot be the sole guiding factor in making policy.  While I do not believe this country will ever be as repressive as China, America is in for a very rude awakening if these bills pass. As in China, your online expression may become a matter of comply or be silenced. Perhaps the most poignant point in Rohde’s article is how the Chinese blogger deals with government policy.

And in a sign of the model’s success, many Chinese bloggers and journalists do not raise sensitive topics online. Asked if he tried to hide his true identity when he was online, the blogger laughed.

“We don’t hide,” he said. “We use self-censorship.”

About Timothy Powers O'Neill

Timothy O’Neill, an attorney with the firm of Cohen Norris practices in the areas of business litigation, real estate litigation, and intellectual property litigation. Timothy received his Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Evansville and graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law in 1997. Following law school, Timothy clerked for two years in the State of Florida's Fifteenth Judicial Circuit in Palm Beach County, and served as a law clerk in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Timothy serves as an executive board member of the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary, a non-profit entity dedicated to preserving Florida’s wildlife through rehabilitation and education. Timothy is admitted to practice before all of the state courts of Florida as well as: The Supreme Court of the United States; United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit; United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit; United States District Court, Southern District of Florida; United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, United States District Court of Colorado, and is a member of the Palm Beach County, Florida, and Federal Bar Associations.

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