As I mentioned in my last post, the US Congress is currently considering two bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA),that would make it easy for copyright infringement complaints (whether ultimately justified or not) to wipe entire sites off the Net by various means, with little recourse or due process for site owners.
As the Electronic Frontier Foundation points out, these bills, if enacted, threaten censorship of a wide variety of sites that host controversial content or unfiltered public discourse, not just flagrant bootleg sites. Sites hosting online books, in particular, could be cut off in various ways if they host a book that someone says infringes copyright in some way. (Even the threat of wholesale cutoff could cause them to take the book down, without any sort of judicial hearing.) Even linking to a site that has content that’s the subject of a complaint could put a site at risk.
Many sites are “going dark” in various ways on the 18th, to raise awareness of these bills and show what it could be like if they became targets of SOPA or PIPA-enabled censorship. This includes a number of the sites linked to from The Online Books Page. For example, the Internet Archive, which hosts 2 million volumes, is out of service for 12 hours on the 18th.
The Online Books Page will not go offline, but we will turn many of our pages black for the 18th, as a warning both that some of the links on the site may be out of service, and that the site itself, which links to more than 1.4 million books on thousands of sites around the world, could be at risk if the bills currently under consideration in Congress pass.
My objection to the bills is not an objection to opposing copyright violations. As the US Constitution recognizes, appropriately bounded copyrights serve a useful purpose in “promoting the progress of science and arts“, and a fair bit of the time I spend on The Online Books Page is devoted towards making sure the online books I curate do in fact comply with applicable copyright law. Without clear and reasonable boundaries, though, copyright and its enforcement can inhibit rather than promote the progress of knowledge and the arts, by becoming tools of censorship and chilled speech. I believe the current bills in Congress unfortunately do that. If you are concerned about them as well, I encourage you to contact members of Congress to make your concerns known.