My latest Publishers Weekly column is "Copyrights vs. Human Rights." In honor of Human Rights Day on Dec 10, I've written a piece on publishing's shameful support of SOPA, a law that will punish the online services that are so key to coordinating and publicizing human rights struggles around the world.
The U.N. characterizes access to the Internet as a human right, and government research in the U.K. and in the U.S. shows the enormous humanitarian benefits of network access for poor and vulnerable families: better nutrition, education, and jobs; more social mobility and opportunity; and civic and political engagement. Yet the services that provide the bulk of these benefits—search engines, Web hosts, and online service providers like Blogger, Tumblr, Twitter, Wikipedia, and YouTube—could never satisfy the requirements set out in SOPA. The only way for these platforms to satisfy SOPA would be to all but shut off the public’s ability to contribute and to throttle free expression for all but those entities that can afford to pay a lawyer to certify that their uploaded material will not attract a copyright complaint.
Another group of important entities that could never satisfy SOPA are the civic-minded hackers and security researchers scrambling to improve the Internet’s Domain Name System (DNS). In 2011, the DNS was attacked several times, including a breach attributed to the Iranian secret police, which used forged certificates to allow them to impersonate governments, banks, and online e-mail providers like Gmail and Hotmail. If passed, SOPA would ban the production or dissemination of tools that could subvert its blocks, and that would include tools the world’s technologists are creating specifically to help defeat government censorship and surveillance. Many of these efforts and tools are actually funded by the U.S. government, and some, like the Onion Router (TOR), are used by U.S. armed forces intelligence services as well as struggling Arab Spring revolutionaries.