I feel like I probably should do something to recognize the potential damage that the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) could have on the free circulation of information and knowledge via scholarly blogging. A few months ago when the threat seemed a bit more distant, Eric Kansa offered some observations on the legislation. Here’s Google’s take on it. Here’s a more generic take by CBS News. Here’s Gizmodo’s take (and a silly song).
The biggest concern with an act like SOPA isn’t that bloggers will start being dragged from their laptops and thrown into rat-infested jails, but that the infrastructure (companies like WordPress.com or even universities or companies that provide server space) that supports blogging (for scholarly and, indeed, other untoward purposes) could suddenly become liable for copyright infringements by their users. While I’m in a business that relies, to a large extent, on a profession and largely unpoliced respect for copyright, I also depend regularly on the free circulation of information through the good graces of numerous highly risk-adverse institutions. As Eric has pointed out, universities and libraries seek to implement policies that minimize risk particularly in these difficult financial times. The harsh penalties and expansive view of liability proposed by SOPA would have real implications for those of us seeking to discuss, circulate, and archive copyright information on the web as universities and libraries work to limit their exposure to the vague rules and harsh penalties.
While it is unclear how significant the support for this legislation is, several sites on the web are taking it seriously enough to stage a protest. The open web has made my life better. I am not particularly afraid of SOPA passing, but I do think that bloggers should join the chorus of voices who support the open web against organizations and corporations who seek to curtail the free circulation of information to protect the interests of a small group of content producers. In fact, as most scholars’ livelihood depends upon respect for intellectual property, it is particularly important for the academic community to speak out when possible to show that rigorous protection of intellectual property and the free circulation of information are not mutually exclusive propositions.