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Join the Public Mark-up of SOPA

November 19, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

As you have probably heard, Congress is working with Big Content companies and unions to quickly pass legislation that would give corporations and the government new powers to take down websites and censor the web. Public-interest groups have been trying to get a seat at the table to explain why the bill is maybe not such a great idea, but so far they’ve been shut out.

The bill is the Stop Online Piracy Act, and in response to the closed nature of how it’s being pushed through Congress, we’ve been encouraging folks to join in an ongoing public mark-up of the legislation here on OpenCongress. Using our in-line bill text commenting functionality, OpenCongress users have submitted over 100 public comments to specific lines and paragraphs of the bill. People are flagging important sections of the text, helping each other digest the legalese, and collaboratively analyzing the implications of what is being proposed.

As I explained on Wednesday, the bill could have a major impact on the free flow of information on the web, and it is especially threatening to the features of the internet that make it a unique and powerful platform for democracy. Its implications are far reaching, but the substance of the bill itself is arcane, referencing obscure provisions of intellectual property law, establishing dozens of new legal definitions, and creating complex systems for restructuring the internet. So far, the so-called experts that Congress has consulted with have been almost exclusively from industries and interests that stand to benefit from it financially. It’s highly likely that lawyers for those companies were even involved in drafting the legislative text alongside the congressional staffers who put the bill together. The mark-up on OpenCongress is a way to counteract the echo chamber and help build public knowledge about exactly what’s in it. With this resource that is being created, along with the work of public-interest groups like EFF, Public Knowledge, and Free Press that are doing amazing work, it’s possible for the public to be more informed on SOPA than most of the members of Congress who will be voting on it. That’s powerful.

Go here to view the public mark-up and start getting involved.

I’ll leave you with a comment from OC user Ginkner from the final paragraph of the bill:

So I’ve read this top to bottom, and my conclusion is that this is completely contrary to current conceptions of the internet. While the idea of protecting Intellectual property online is commendable, this bill does so by forcing ISPs, Search Engines, and “Payment Network Providers” into the role of the internet police. That this can conflict with the first amendment is quite apparent simply by looking what happened to Wikileaks. Were this bill to be passed, Wikileaks wouldn’t have just massively lost funding, it would have been wiped completely off the internet. While this bill is clearly targeted at media streaming sites, its ability to be used as a muzzle is too dangerous.

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