One of the biggest threats in our nation’s history to both free speech and, in fact, our free society, was shelved last Friday after massive protests across the Internet, including a 24-hour shutdown of Wikipedia and Reddit. The Stop Online Privacy Act was an overreaching piece of legislation that would have resulted in preemptive action being taken toward websites that could have resulted in the shutting off of many high-traffic websites such as Facebook and YouTube. Protests against this bill were a refreshing act of citizens rising up to protect their right to free speech and personal property.
SOPA would have been a step in the wrong direction for two reasons. First, it attempted to preemptively stop copyright infringement and piracy by threatening to take down websites. This would have been disastrous and could have possibly caused the destruction of websites, such as YouTube and Facebook, that do not have the manpower to monitor all of their content. In addition, it would have caused great stress to all of the consumers who would be without their funny cat videos. Second, there were already laws on the books to deal with this type of copyright infringement. Lawsuits with million dollar judgments are a very effective way to make an example of criminals.
Why is it that Americans take their right to free speech and personal property seriously when it comes to the Internet, but they sacrifice these same principles in the real world every day? It's evident that young Americans take their rights seriously, but many fail to recognize the overreaching hand of the government when it takes on forms that are not quite as obvious as interference with the Internet.
Consider this - according to a Google spokeswoman, 4.5 million people signed a petition to ban SOPA on Jan. 18. That's more than 1 percent of our entire nation's population. That's huge! But why does the American public turn a blind eye when the federal government stomps on other rights? Recent examples include mandating that every citizen commit the commercial act of buying health insurance, redistributing wealth through subsidies to corporations that are not fiscally sound enough to support themselves, such as Solyndra, Mountain Plaza Inc., and SpectraWatt and, according to the Wall Street Journal, forcing banks to make loans they would never give based on their own judgment.
It is true. SOPA would have caved in the gold mine that is the Internet, and it is absolutely wonderful that the American people cared enough to protest against it. The problem is we too often turn a blind eye when the hand of the federal government reaches into other sectors of our free market.
The Internet grew faster than anyone had anticipated a product ever could. It blossomed to amazing heights over the course of a few decades. The Internet was able to grow for a few reasons, and its nearly absolute freedom is without a doubt one of them.
By restricting an industry in the name of social responsibility or "fairness," the government can manipulate the market’s short-term outcome to benefit an interest group, such as low-wage workers, or prolong the death of an industry that cannot survive on its own. However, any such step taken by the government is only a short-term fix and usually does not actually solve the problem it attempts to address.
Americans should stand up for the principles that made our country great on all issues that affect the free market as a whole, not just the Internet. Our founders chose capitalism for a reason. It rewards hard work, expands at amazing speeds and for the most part, regulates itself. If government would allow the free market to take care of itself, soon we would have an entire economy that grows as fast as the Internet.