Public Service Announcement: Writers, Censorship, and SOPA
There is nothing that will cause more harm to a writer’s spirit, wreak more havoc on a writer’s heart, or do more damage to a writer’s livelihood than censorship.
Most writers believe they are safe from censorship. Whatever’s being censored usually affects only a small portion of writers and artists. However, once the government has the power to censor, there’s no way to tell what they will censor next. You might look at the current administration and feel they wouldn’t censor your work. But who will be in that administration next year? In 2016? In 2020?
Oddly, even in this day and age, there are people who would like nothing more than the power to censor what other people read. For example, there was actually a movement to ban Harry Potter from school libraries. Anything controversial is a prime target for censorship: stories that contain sex, drugs, cursing, and violence. But sometimes, what most of us would consider rather innocent comes under fire: a book featuring a single parent is accused of undermining family values. It sounds ridiculous, but even a book about censorship, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, was banned — for containing a swear word, but the irony is deep and chilling.
There is no telling what the censors will go after once they have the power.
There is something in every piece of writing that can be twisted and contorted and declared dangerous or offensive.
Understanding SOPA and PIPA and How They Affect Writers
Luckily, things are not that dismal yet (unless you live in China, where they have banned time travel stories). Right now, nobody’s trying to literally censor literature in the United States (friends from abroad, please bear with us). But they are trying to censor the Internet. The government and its campaign financiers are working to pass a bill that will give them the power to determine what’s fit for consumption online. And they are doing it right now, this week, today.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA or H.R. 3261) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA or S.968) are presented as legislation designed to stop online piracy of copyrighted works. Sounds good, right? As a content creator and copyright holder, I too would like to put a stop to theft and illegal redistribution of copyrighted material.
The problem is that SOPA and PIPA do very little to actually prevent online piracy. In fact, the loopholes are glaring (pirates will use DNS numbers instead of domain names). However, these bills do a lot to give the government and big corporations the power to block, ban, and censor websites. And the fallout could be massive. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Tumblr could shut down. Ad servers (like Google Adsense), hosting providers, and merchant services (like PayPal) will be affected (the costs of policing the web could be so massive that these companies will be forced to shut down). Ordinary people with websites and blogs could be criminalized, fined, and jailed.
What Does This Mean for Writers?
Considering the recent surge in self-publishing, the rise in ebook sales, decline in print book sales, the raging popularity of social media sites for promoting authors’ work, it’s fairly obvious that writers need a free Internet, a place where we can create and conduct business without worrying that we might offend somebody who has the power to shut us down.
So, we have to be diligent in staying informed about internet censorship and doing what we can to prevent it.
The video below explains PIPA better than I can (without going into a total rage). After the video, I’ve posted a few useful links with more information and insight on SOPA. Plus, I’ve listed a few quick and easy actions you can take to fight against censorship.
More Information on SOPA and PIPA:
I know you’re all busy. The holidays are upon us and there’s a lot do: shopping, party planning, year-end finances, reviewing goals, balancing a day job with your writing projects, and editing your NaNoWriMo book. My job as editor of Writing Forward is to encourage you to write, and I always do. But today, I urge you to take a break from your writing to ensure that you remain free to continue it. Surely, you can spare a few minutes to understand how SOPA would destroy the security and freedom of the Internet and how it could literally silence the voices of millions of writers.
- The people who built the internet don’t like SOPA and wrote an open letter to Congress to express their opposition.
- One writer compares SOPA to a nightmare.
- The big-money businesses fight over SOPA even though it will do most damage to regular people, especially those who make a living via the Internet.
- On Twitter, the hashtag #SOPA reveals massive opposition to the bill (and zero support for it).
- Open Congress presents a list of supporters and opponents, and tells you how money is changing hands.
What You Can Do
I don’t expect you guys to do anything I haven’t done myself. I’ll be frank: censorship terrifies me. I have always believed that once the government starts censoring, they will never stop. If you give them the power to censor people, they will use it and they will abuse it. In a very short time, censorship will evolve into full-on suppression. Don’t be silenced. We are writers, and we need our voices.
- Talk to people about it. Mainstream media has completely failed to report on SOPA and PIPA (which is another issue in itself), so most people don’t even know about it! The simple act of raising awareness can have a profound effect.
- Share it on Twitter and Facebook. Express your opposition (on Twitter, make sure you use the hashtag #SOPA). Post the video above and share links to articles that provide information and opportunities to take action.
- In a few minutes, on a single site, americancensorship.org, you can call your representatives, sign a petition, email Congress, receive news updates about SOPA and censorship, and engage in a variety of other actions.
- If the bill passes Congress, it goes to the President and he has the power to veto it. Use an easy online form to urge the President to oppose censorship in America.
- Fight for the Future (producers of the video above) also has a form you can fill out to express your opposition to Congress.
- The pen is mightier than the sword. Write blog posts, articles, and essays about this issue. You are writers! Use your words to fight the good fight.
“If in other lands the press and books and literature of all kinds are censored, we must redouble our efforts here to keep them free.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt
Finally, I invite all of you to use the comments section below to share any content that opposes censorship. I’d love to build a repository of articles, photos, cartoons, poems, and quotes expressing the danger of censorship and SOPA. Also, talk about why censorship is dangerous and tell us what you’re doing to stop it. Please note that all first-time comments are held in moderation until I can approve them.
Freedom is something that people have to fight for. Keep fighting.
Note: while most of the content on Writing Forward is copyrighted with all rights reserved to the author, the text in this article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. You are free to share and distribute, print and republish this text.