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SOPA and PIPA

SOPA and PIPA refer to bills currently being considered in the US that would have profound, negative consequences for all users of the internet – and particularly bad ones for open source. The EFF explains why:

In this new bill [SOPA], Hollywood has expanded its censorship ambitions. No longer content to just blacklist entries in the Domain Name System, this version targets software developers and distributors as well. It allows the Attorney General (doing Hollywood or trademark holders' bidding) to go after more or less anyone who provides or offers a product or service that could be used to get around DNS blacklisting orders. This language is clearly aimed at Mozilla, which took a principled stand in refusing to assist the Department of Homeland Security's efforts to censor the domain name system, but we are also concerned that it could affect the open source community, internet innovation, and software freedom more broadly.

With laws starting to target open source projects because they provide freedom to users to resist oppressive laws, we are entering new territory. And so is Mozilla, because it has decided to fight back directly by setting up a page urging its supporters in the US to call their Senators about PIPA and SOPA:

The Protect IP Act (PIPA) – the US Senate's version of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the US House – is gaining steam.

SOPA is still likely to pass – and we expect its supporters to try and move it soon – but, right now, we also need to watch the Senate because Majority Leader Harry Reid is thinking about moving PIPA soon.

But just as SOPA would not achieve its stated goal of stopping piracy online, nor would this. Just like SOPA, this bill will create new cybersecurity risks and jeopardize the basic structure of the internet as we know it.

And as a non-profit committed to keeping the web open and accessible to all, Mozilla wants to ensure that this legislation does not pass in its current form.

That is, Mozilla is becoming actively involved in fighting against legislation, in this case in the US. No longer is it content to sit on the sidelines as crucial battles that affect internet openness and freedom are being fought; it has finally decided to state its position and to join the combat.

In one sense, this is just a logical continuation of its fight for the open web over the last decade. Where before it could do that through purely technical means, now it must become engaged in quite a different way – politically. It can do this because of the track record it has for defending the open web, the goodwill it has built up, and the influence it wields as a result.

This new concern does not mean that it should de-emphasise its development work; indeed, Mozilla only has influence to the extent that people value Firefox, Thunderbird and the rest. Similarly, it is hugely important to explore new areas where it can make technical contributions – web apps and privacy spring to mind here. But I believe that these latest moves are exactly the kind of direction Mozilla should be taking, and that they answer the deeper question that the recent discussions over its future have raised. Promoting open web standards is all very well, but if the internet's very infrastructure is under attack, such issues tend to become rather moot.


Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+. For other feature articles by Glyn Moody, please see the archive.

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