Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Stop SOPA

I'm not a huge politics guy, so I don't want to go on a tirade about the Stop Online Piracy Act. Sufficed to say, it's a huge censorship bill parading as a bill to protect intellectual property. While I think the majority of us support protecting IP, I can't imagine the best way to do so is to monitor everything we do and censor websites based on some government-backed list of sensitive content.

As an example, if someone were to post copyrighted material in the comments section of my blog without my notice, my blog could potentially be shut down (censored) because of it. If I were to link to a site that had, somewhere on it, shared copyrighted material (even if I had no idea it was there and didn't intend for anyone to go there and see it or download it), my blog could be shut down (censored).

Moreover, the bill basically forces both providers and hosting services to strongly monitor content and shut down sites that potentially "infringe" on protected IP. Ever posted a picture of something that was copyrighted? Ever shared a link to a YouTube video with a copyrighted song in the background? That could be enough to get you shut down (because your host or provider doesn't want to be sued).

My wife and I often talk about the situation in Japan (she's Japanese) regarding the Fukushima nuclear reactor situation and how censorship and control of the media in Japan is so strong that the general public has no idea how dire the situation is. We even see that censorship and media control bleed over to here in America, where the general public is under the impression the nuclear situation isn't as bad as it is, in large part because the government and big media have an incentive to see nuclear power as an industry succeed.

Now here's the scary thing: If I were to start posting excerpts from copyrighted articles about that topic to respond to, if SOPA were to pass, my blog could potentially be shut down. I could personally be denied access. It's unclear to me exactly how much power this bill would give big media and the government. And that's the major problem.

In our field of genomics, a lot of us utilize freedom of sharing information and media to rapidly advance the science. I understand that this bill is meant to limit piracy of software and other digital media, but it represents a foot-in-the-door to all sorts of censorship. Could SEQanswers, for example, be sued for having a post up that contains the Illumina adaptor sequences? It certainly has been threatened in the past based on such things, but with SOPA passed, SEQanswers very well could have been shut down for that. What a detriment that would have been to the genomics and bioinformatics community.

Anyway, I just wanted to share this on my outlet to the world, as it is a very important issue generally and to our field in particular.

If you are an American and you do not support SOPA, please send a notice to your congresspeople telling them not to support it, either.