As a book blogger, I don’t think it should come as any surprise that I am opposed to censorship and in favor of the freedoms of speech and expression as granted to US citizens under our Constitution. I was deeply disturbed on Monday this week to read this excerpt from You Can’t Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom by Nick Cohen. It was appalling to me to learn how easy it is for speech to be stifled in what I had believed to be a country with freedoms similar to mine–merely because of the high cost of defending against libel suits. A particularly egregious example was that of a neo-Nazi suing a historian for claiming that he had manipulated evidence to prove the Holocaust had never occurred: millions of pounds later, the judge agreed that the Holocaust had indeed occurred and that there was therefore no libel, but the defendant never recovered their court costs. Reading this, I thought to myself about how easy it is to take our freedom of speech for granted. And that I mustn’t.
Then I learned about the PROTECT-IP Act (US Senate Bill 968) and the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA (US House of Representatives Bill 3261). On the surface they sound reasonable: an attempt to draft legislation to protect rights holders against copyright infringement, most specifically providing a mechanism to protect US businesses against piracy from overseas. The difficulty is that they are too vague, too broad. It would be too easy for bounds to be overstepped. The potential for unintended consequences is too high. The worst to me, is the potential for a limiting of our freedom of speech–but there are real potential negative economic consequences as well. Further, I believe it is naive to believe that this legislation could actually make significant inroads against piracy and recoup the economic losses major media companies have attributed to such piracy. (I should note that I in no way condone piracy and believe in (reasonable) copyright protect.)
I try to be careful not to buy into hype too easily, to look at all sides of an issue. But here there seem to be too many uncomfortable questions; too many serious considerations have been raised, by people much more knowledgeable than I.
I can only hope that enough voices may be raised that this legislation may be more carefully considered and that our Constitutional rights may be protected. I would rather read 1984 not live in it.