Censoring the Internet: It's Not Just for China Any More!

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For the record, like nearly everyone else who has thought about the importance of a freely operating Internet to the cultural, political, and economic vibrancy of the United States, I take a dim view of the Orwellian-named "Stop Online Piracy Act" being considered in Congressional hearings today.

For more of the reasons why opponents of the bill have declared today "American Censorship Day," go to the ACD site, or Fight for the Future, or Mozilla's site. And for a how-to of Internet censorship a la Chinoise, there is this Atlantic piece from three years ago, still basically true to the operations of the Great Firewall. In the NYT Rebecca MacKinnon makes the Great Firewall-SOPA connection.

The Vimeo clip below does a very clear and concise job of explaining the commercial, technical, and political issues at stake. Short description of the problem: in the name of blocking copyright-infringing piracy sites mainly outside the United States, the bill would make U.S.-based Internet companies legally liable for links to or publication of any pirated material. This would be technically cumbersome, economically and commercially dampening, and potentially politically repressive. The video tells you more. 

   

PROTECT IP Act Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.


Every developed society has had to work out the right balance of how far it will go to ensure that inventors and creators will get a reasonable return for their discoveries. If it does too little -- as in modern China, where you can buy a DVD of any movie for $1.50 from a street vendor -- it throttles the growth of creative industries. (China both over-controls political expression and under-controls commercial copying.) If it does too much -- encouraging "patent troll" lawsuits, arresting people for file-sharing music or video streams -- it can throttle growth and creativity in other ways. There is no perfect answer, but this bill would tip the balance way too far in one direction, to defend incumbents in the entertainment industry.

And for a wonderful illustration of the completely unexpected ways in which technological, political, commercial, and social creativity can interact, by all means read Alexis Madrigal's item on "OWS as API."

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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