Public Service Announcement: Writers, Censorship, and SOPA

censhorship

Censorship is not good for anybody but it’s especially bad for writers.

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.

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

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.

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.

About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.

Comments

16 Responses to “Public Service Announcement: Writers, Censorship, and SOPA”

  1. Yvonne Root says:

    Melissa,

    This post is well researched, well compiled and well written. Censorship is simply one more step in the erosion of our freedom.

    I don’t know what has been reported concerning this issue on TV as I’m not much of a news watcher. But, I can report that a radio station I listen to frequently has mentioned this whole scenario repeatedly. They have given much information concerning the way and the need to fight against this attempt to place government in control of one more of our ever eroding freedoms.

    Good for you for taking a stand and giving so many ways others can join you.

    • I don’t watch much TV news either, but my friends and family do — and none of them had heard about SOPA or PIPA. They were also unaware of NDAA (the law that empowers the US military to detain American citizens indefinitely without trial). There are some shady dealings going down in all three branches of our government right now: corporate personhood, overriding habeas corpus (and the fourth amendment), and censorship (violating the first amendment). Any of those issues alone might go unnoticed but taken together, they paint a rather dismal picture.

      If our system is working properly, it doesn’t matter what the government controls — because we control them. But what we’re seeing more and more now is that there are puppet masters controlling our government and they are the entities that finance campaigns and shell out millions of dollars a day for lobbyists. The government doesn’t seem to be listening to the people anymore, just their financiers. Follow the money.

  2. Marlon says:

    Of course they won’t report this on mainstream media because it’s owned by the government. Their aim is to keep people small and in the dark about reality. The internet has shaped our world so vastly in the past decade and it’s a good place for limitless free expression. If the government wants to censor the ethereal hotspot of information, then I say bullocks to them! If they attack literature next, then I just don’t know how much my piss will come to a boil.

    Malicious content aside, there are a lot of websites out there that provide better news and more beneficial information than the mainstream media will ever broadcast. Although this isn’t a website about SOPA and censorship, it’s much broader than the issue. Please visit http://www.freedomainradio.com for philsophical conversation about freedom and peaceful anarchy. Internet and literary censorship is just an effect of the cause: The State.

    Censorship is just one of the many oppressing weapons of The State, and I, as an anarchist, believe that we as a people deserve to be free of their shackles. We live in an age where government is cracking down on too many irrelevancies; proving just how much our society doesn’t really need one.

    • I believe our society needs a government, but I respect your views, too. Maybe someday we won’t need a central leadership, but I don’t think we’re there yet. For right now, I don’t believe we need a government telling us which websites to visit, which books to read, which foods are vegetables, etc. We have really lost our way and if I’m being brutally honest, what bothers most is how few people even care that all of this is happening — which tells me that perhaps our biggest problem is the lack of education in this country. Most people don’t seem to understand how the system works and take more interest in celebrities’ love lives and reality TV than they do their own leadership, rights, and liberties. Apathy is the disease that kills freedom.

  3. Emily Suess says:

    Bless you for making this available under creative commons and for taking time to keep writers informed!

  4. Bill Polm says:

    Thanks for that, Melissa,

    I was only vaguely aware of such moves. And now I am more alarmed indeed.

    I am dead set against any censorship, including that by church denominations and organizations, even though I am seriously Christian.

    What I find hard to understand how the congress members that propose such legislation cannot understand that it is in direct opposition to freedom of speech, the First Amendment. To me, the end never justifies the means–bad means, bad end.

    The Internet is, admittedly, a mixed bag. But regulation of that sort obviously–to any moderately wise person–is not the answer to a wholesome society. The Internet holds powerful promise,ultimately if not currently, for helping pull entire countries out of the pit of their economic doldrums through the brilliant entrepreneurship possible and actual there.

    Well written, well researched, and wise too.

    • There are some other moves happening that are just as concerning, like the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The left-right pundits are so busy talking about left-right issues that mainstream media fails to tell us when our basic (bipartisan) freedoms are being stripped.

      I think the fact that you oppose censorship as a Christian is especially important. If we belong to any kind of group that is collectively trying to achieve something detrimental to society, I believe it’s even more critical to speak up. In other words, we have an even deeper obligation to stand for or against something when our own tribe is working to push it.

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this issue, Bill.

  5. Melissa –

    Thank you this. I’m sharing this post along with what posts I have been able to find that speak intelligently about the issue.

    I wrote a similar take, though I spoke a bit more pointedly about the dinosaurs that stand to profit from this stupidity (and, yes, I’m linking below):

    “Why I Oppose SOPA/Protect IP.”

    Again, thank you,

    –Daniel

    • I’ve never met anyone who believes in censorship (although I know such persons are out there) so I would think we can successfully fight SOPA. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for taking the time to write about why you oppose SOPA/PIPA.

  6. Melissa, thank you so much for writing this post. I’ve had my head so buried in the pages of my WIP that I haven’t been paying attention to this. Thank you for doing the research for us and bringing this to my attention.

    • Thanks Natalie. One of the great things about the community of writers online is that we can share news and information that affects all of us, like SOPA and PIPA. I’m glad I was able to bring this to your attention :) Keep writing!

  7. Melissa: Thanks for not only discussing the subject on your blog (which I found by Googling “writers and SOPA”), but for providing links and information we can check into. I’ll be including a link to this blog post on my own blog. I’ve been writing my whole life but, now that I recently began working full-time as a freelance writer, the prospect of government censorship is even more chilling than it has always been. Best, Linda

    • Thank you Linda. I’m increasingly concerned at how our government bundles a bunch of bills together and use legitimate laws to pass less constitutional ones. Censorship is appalling to me. I just don’t understand how anyone thinks they have the right to control what other people say, read, watch, etc. Thanks again!

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