Sunday, January 22, 2012

Canadian Libraries and SOPA/PIPA

If you were using the internet last Wednesday, you likely noticed that a number of major sites, including the English version of Wikipedia, Reddit, and Mozilla, were blacked out in protest of the United States’ Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA). Many other websites, especially small, online businesses, also went dark. While both SOPA and PIPA have now been shelved indefinitely (see articles on CNN and The Los Angeles Times), it is worth noting that the library community in the United States spoke out against these acts with a strong, unified voice. But should Canadian librarians care?

The passing of SOPA and PIPA in their current forms should concern Canadian librarians for two reasons. The first reason is that they pose a direct threat to freedom of information on the Internet. As it stands, SOPA gives individuals, corporations, and United States government the right to order a site’s payment partners to cut a site off or to block a site without ever going through a judicial process*. Ergo, this law would allow large media corporations and government officials to decide what content should be available on the Internet without having to answer to anyone.

The second reason is that if they were to pass, it is likely that they would influence pending copyright legislation in Canada. Michael Geist, University of Ottawa law professor and well-known copyright activist, details how SOPA and PIPA have already influenced the formation of Bill C-11 in his pre-blackout post “Why Canadians Should Participate in the SOPA/PIPA Protest.” If SOPA and PIPA were to move forward, it is possible that our government would attempt to align itself with the U.S. through similar legislation. (Also, see Michael's recent article on the Huffington Post.)

As defenders of the right to freedom of access to information, Canadian librarians should keep a close eye on SOPA, PIPA, and Bill C-11. The Internet has become the world’s forum and if we are to ensure that “[a]ll persons in Canada have the fundamental right … to have access to all expressions of knowledge, creativity and intellectual activity” as stated in the Canadian Library Association’s Statement of Intellectual Freedom, it important that we are aware of these issues and add our voices to the conversations occurring about copyright, censorship, and access to the Internet.

* See the link to the "One-page guide to SOPA" on the Swiss Army Librarian's Blog for information on how SOPA works. Other useful links are included in the post.

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