SOPA a controversy against the Open Source world

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By now you might have already read a couple of articles on SOPA and PIPA; the controversial and now widely notorious bills that hammer the freedom of internet. In this article we shall investigate how SOPA and PIPA negate the spirit of opensource community and virtual communities at large.

SOPA , a Roundup!

SOPA and sister bill PIPA, in simple terms attempt to gear the problem of foreign-based websites that sell pirated content by stopping the U.S. companies from providing funding, advertising, links or other assistance to theses foreign sites. The open-source community is however apprehensive that the language of the bill is so broad that it shall also adversely affect the U.S websites that unknowingly host pirated content. Others claim that it is a sloppy start to smash down the freedom of speech as eventually as U.S, world powerful nation will have the right to censor and shutdown websites without due process.

Internet is a completely un-biased and democratic technology and has provided opportunity to every individual who uses it, to express their thought with a freedom of expression. Under this bill, the internet will fall pray in hands of a central power that can, without any reason ban any website, even before genuine investigation.

The background of virtual community (& in turn open source communities)

Open source community is type of a virtual community; while virtual communities are not mere communities over the internet. It is a profound scientific phenomenon that Howard Rheingold defines as:

“Social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace”
in his book book titled “Virtual Community”.

When you investigate the history of internet itself you will find that initially internet was developed as a connection medium with an intent to join scientists around the United States so that they can collaborate and share their ideas and works hence, forming the very first virtual community. Later, with the pervasiveness of internet, this very first virtual community enlarged to embrace scientists from around the globe, belonging to various universities and different disciplines. That is to say that the advent of internet was for the purpose of sharing content without any check and balancel that SOPA seeks to enforce.

It was with the advancement in technology (such as better and faster internet connections, smartphones and other mobile devices etc.) and reduced cost of computing & communication, that man, a social animal, was further inclined towards virtual/e-communities. The (virtual communities) are attracting increasing attention from information and social scientists and philosophers (Cf., Feenberg & Barney, 2004; Shane, 2004;Ciffolilli, 2003; Shoberth et al., 2003). [Members of the virtual communities] also contend that to foster community spirit, these sites should allow members to build relationships with members that share particular interests (Case et al., 2001, p. 64)
Knowledge sharing as a key feature of V.C
According to Wellman, there are two important inherent properties embedded in virtual communities:

  • Social Networks: When people interact with one another in virtual communities, they are inherently social.
  • Information and Knowledge Bearing: If we view people in virtual community as information and knowledge bearers, they become an information and knowledge base. These pieces of information and knowledge possessed by community members are the important assets of the virtual community as a whole.

Another key to factor of the virtual community is the freedom of expression and speech; that Rheingold’s defines as “Cyber liberation”.

Hidding and Catterall (1998) argued that knowledge has no value unless it has been shared and used in some way. That is to say that, sharing knowledge increases the value of knowledge. Knowledge and information, as not shared and made public, remains less effective for masses.

You think Reddit is illegal or it is sharing knowledge?
SOPA sees Reddit as illegal as it is a website based on link sharing. And according to SOPA’s vague language linksharing is illegal!

It is due virtual communities that information is more accessible to anyone and everyone; irrespective if he has or has not money to buy knowledge. According to SOPA, if you cannot buy a documentary you cannot watch it and therefore can’t gain knowledge! Neither you can share knowledge as freely as you can now.

Opensource community as Virtual community

OSS communities are an important type of virtual community today, where members convene online with the common goal of producing software that is valuable both to developers and for the general public( Kevin Carillo, OOS communities)
The open source community is defined as “Internet-based communities of software developers who voluntarily collaborate in order to develop software that they or their organizations need” (von Krogh, 2003). The members of opensource community would not have been able to coordinate without the realization of virtual communities that provide a fast and reliable mean for sharing knowledge.
Today opensource software have been able to outperform proprietary software by enabling better reliability, lower costs, shorter development times, and a higher quality of code (Raymond, 2004).

So how will SOPA affect the Open source community?

Having understood the true spirit of virtual communities and in fact Open source community; let’s investigate how SOPA will affect Open source communities particularly.

SOPA in fact facilitates internet censorship in the name of protecting online infringement. Internet censorship cannot, by any mean protect the content owner’s privacy. And therefore the route the bill assumes to stop internet piracy is very wrong. If SOPA becomes a law, any website carrying a mildest clue of infringing material will be blocked entirely in the United States; and not only this you might not even know the reason!

The bill also targets websites that heavily rely on user generated material to impose new restrictions to constantly monitor user activity; in turn restricting the freely sharing of knowledge. The bill is being also deemed as a sloppy start for hammering the freedom of speech on the internet. The bill will also promote sense of insecurity as your website could be blocked for other reasons too; limiting the freedoms of speech and hence freedom of ideas.

And not only this, some of the open source projects can be targeted under this bill too, such as open-source BitTorrent clients, some peer-to-peer programs along with browser plugins (MAFIAAFire Redirector) which allow a users to download content embedded on a web page as these softwares may be misused. Back in May 2011the Department of Homeland Security had requested Mozilla to remove MAFIAAFire from its website. Mozilla refused the request, asking “Have any courts determined that the Mafiaafire add-on is unlawful or illegal in any way?”
SOPA will enforce such a removal!

Many of the open source projects such as WordPress, Joomla, Mozilla, PHP and Free Software Foundation are resisting the bill strongly owing to the advese affects it shall have if it becomes the law.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation expressed concern that free and open source software (FLOSS) projects found to be aiding online piracy may experience serious problems under SOPA.

Sourceforge writes:
We are, of course, concerned at how these bills, or future versions of them, will affect Open Source, giving companies the ability to shut down projects and project hosting sites like SourceForge, with little or no evidence, and with no due process.
The senate will begin voting on the bill on 24th to decide the fate of the bill and hence the internet and Open source community.

Reference:

  1. Hidding, G. J. & Catterall, S. M. 1998. Anatomy of a Learning Organization: Turning Knowledge into Capital at Andersen Consulting. Knowledge & Process Management, 5 (1), 3-13.
  2. Case, S., N. Azarmi, M. Thint, & T. Ohtani. 2001. Enhancing E-Communities with Agent-Based Systems. Computer July: 64-69. http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/iel5/2/20203/0093505.pdf. Retrieved on December 9, 2004.
  3. Feenburg, A. & M. Bakardjieva. 2004. Consumers or Citizens? The Online Community Debate. Pp. 1-29in A.
  4. Hagel, III, J., & Armstrong, G.A. (1997). Net gain: Expanding markets through virtual communities. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
  5. Wellman, B. (2001). Computer networks as social networks. Science, 293, 2031-2034.

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