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Both parties for freedom

The advent of the Internet has unleashed a sea change upon Hollywood and the music industry. From Napster to YouTube to Torrent, new technologies that empower the free flow of information have also enabled copyright piracy. But over the last decade, the influential RIAA and MPAA have adapted, and have secured powerful tools to police their copyrights in the online world, such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. 

Still, as long as anyone can post anything they wish online, there will always be some infringement — especially given what the music and film industries often consider infringement (including 30-second videos of babies dancing to Prince). 

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So naturally, the RIAA and MPAA have determined that the sensible thing is to shut down the social Internet altogether. 

In the upper chamber, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is carrying Big Content’s water with the Protect IP Act, while Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is pushing the companion bill in the House, the Stop Online Piracy Act. 

No one disputes the value of stopping rogue foreign sites from hosting infringing material without fear of legal consequences. But that’s not what the overbroad language of the proposed bills would do. 

These bills would allow copyright holders to demand that payment providers such as Visa cut off funding for allegedly infringing websites, while providing the accused sites just five days to respond. No court order would be required. In addition, the U.S. government could order Internet providers to block any site for users — again, without judicial review.

Furthermore, the definition of “infringement” in the bills is so broad that any site with user-generated content would be at risk, from the smallest bloggers to such social giants as Twitter and Facebook. 

That’s why Silicon Valley — from Tumblr to Zynga, Sound Forge to Reddit, Microsoft to Google, Yahoo to eBay, AOL to LinkedIn — has lined up uniformly against the bill. These companies realize — without a shred of hyperbole — that if this bill becomes a law, their future and that of the entire social Internet will be gravely endangered. 

Indeed, the entire ethos of the Internet — as an open platform to share, collaborate and participate — is at stake.

For some time, it seemed as if the bipartisan Internet-killing measure was on a fast track, greased with $90 million in lobbyist boodle, to the president’s desk. But Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) emerged as a one-man roadblock, threatening to filibuster the bill should it reach the Senate floor. Such tactics could run out a full week of the Senate’s clock — precious time, given how little is left this calendar year. And Wyden has lined up his own bipartisan set of allies — Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell (Wash.) and Republican Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Jerry Moran (Kan.). 

In the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) opposition to the bill is joined by hard-line Republicans including Reps. Ron Paul (Texas), Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and Darrell Issa (Calif.). Strange bedfellows, indeed!

There’s simply nothing partisan about this issue. Social media have been critical to both the Tea Party and Occupy movements, to trade unionists and anti-abortion groups alike. The question isn’t whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, it’s whether you prize freedom of speech and freedom of the press for all, over the narrow intellectual-property concerns of a few.

So members of Congress must now decide where they stand — with Hollywood studios, or with a free, open, people-empowered Internet. Americans expect despotic regimes to try to shut down sites that allow user-generated content — they don’t expect it at home.

Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (dailykos.com).


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