No Internet censorship bill is ever a good idea: SOPA is just the beginning

Here’s the biggest problem with SOPA and its companion in the Senate, the PROTECT-IP act: It presumes that legislation is in any way needed. The entertainment industry is already legislatively over-served. Higgins says, “a lot of the complaints and issues raised [as a need for SOPA] are already addressed with existing laws.”

The problem is that the RIAA, MPAA, BSA and other parties aren’t satisfied with anything less than immediate gratification and ridiculous penalties for anyone that might infringe – however lightly – on their copyrighted material. Couple that with law enforcement and legislators all too happy to grab a bit more power, and you have a real problem.

(ReadWriteWeb, Cautious Optimism Follows SOPA Hearings: Don’t Get Cocky)

SOPA was always going to be a taller order for the entertainment industry to pass than many observers had bargained. Yet too much is at stake on either side for the issue to just go away: the profits than the industry has grown accustomed to earning over the past fifty years or so on the one hand—with the accompanying sense of entitlement—and the real risk that the essential freedom inherent in the uncensored Internet itself will be fatally compromised on the other.

The balance of power is inexorably shifting away from the entertainment industry, because the economic model on which its profits were based has been made obsolete by the Internet. But it has powerful allies in Congress and elsewhere—France’s President M Sarkozy not least among them. There is a risk, therefore, that leaders in other countries will attempt to set the clock back in response to heavy lobby pressure. This would not just be a setback for the consumer: it would infringe the fundamental freedom underpinning the Internet: unbiased access to information for everyone, everywhere.

The persistence of this debate will inevitably spill over—indeed, has already started dong so—towards the wider one of Internet governance: governments everywhere will increasingly be tempted to gain ultimate control of the web, albeit dressed up as a supranational body with the inevitable politicisation characterizing all international organisations. China, India, South Africa, Russia and Iran have for some time been lobbying for the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to take over the regulatory task currently undertaken by ICANN: if they succeed in convincing Western governments to concede this, the Internet as we have known it would face a grave existential threat.