A threat to our dangerous genius

If you went in through the front door of WordPress today, you might have noticed this cheerful sight:

An image of WordPress' front page. Where blog recommendations are usually shown, images and text are blacked out behind the words "CENSORED."

It’s a symbol of a protest many sites like WordPress, Reddit, Wikipedia, and even The Oatmeal are going through today to protest two laws being considered in the US Congress – PIPA and SOPA. Both would grant unprecedented powers to copyright owners to tell the US government to block sites they accuse of stealing their content, with almost no oversight. Sites like this one, where people regularly post original or modified copyrighted material, would be forced to maintain constant vigilance over all of their users or risk being shut down.

I love gifs of Doctor Who scenes and watching TV online as much as anyone else, but we all know being able to freely share information is about more than that. We live in a culture now where building, remixing, and adding to one another’s work online is a key part of how we process and share information. The debacle over same-sex marriage rights in Canada last week shows that this power allows misinformation to spread like wildfire, but these bills would restrict our platforms to even have those debates. This is a free speech issue for Americans, but it also matters for the rest of the world because the dangerous genius of the internet is that it allows ongoing global projects and conversations.

What I hope is that the backlash today leads to some deeper conversations about what we do want the internet to look like. There are some important issues coming down the pipeline, so the speak. Should internet service providers be able to create a two-tiered internet, where companies like Bell can charge extra to allow fast downloads of content from the media they own, and slow down access to the rest of the internet? How can we encourage people to make new intellectual work without smothering the public’s ability to benefit from it with lawsuit-baiting copyright laws?

I don’t know what action to recommend except to suggest you read this more in-depth (and very accessible) rundown on Gizmodo today. And help start these next conversations.

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