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Mr. Russell's Library Blog

Wednesday, January 18, 2012



Today's Google Doodle is a black bar of censorship over the logo, as Google protests a bill in front of Congress ostensibly designed to aid in the enforcement of copyright violation. Now, I don't know a teenager who isn't in favor of copyright violation. Copyright can seem simply like one more thing that prevents you from getting what you want instantaneously, and since a teenager's life tends to feel like a never-ending series of crises that need to be taken care of RIGHT NOW, paying attention to the legality of downloading can seem trivial at best and totally irrelevant at worst.

So while Google is imploring you to call your congressperson and prevent a favorable vote on the Stop Online Piracy Act (or SOPA), the "you" in question is probably not someone who votes, and probably the person that the Act is trying to attack. Of course you're opposed to it. But probably not for the reasons Google wants you to be.

This blog post starts with an image. It was an image I found on Google Image Search after putting in the search terms "censored text". It showed up about three screens down, after a picture of Kristen Stewart, an inappropriate-for-school T-shirt, the cover art for both Anderson's Speak and Dean Myers' Monster, and — bizarrely — an image of NyanCat. Because of a lack of restrictions on the freedom of the internet, I was able to copy and download this image and add it to this blog. Exactly the sort of thing you do for PowerPoint presentations, for posting on Facebook, for cluttering up your network folders on the S: drive.

Technically, however, this is copyright violation. I don't own the image, and I don't own the rights to the image. Specifically, I don't own the right to copy the image and use it to my own ends, because I did not make it, and I did not ask for permission. As a sop to this, I have altered the image (also a right I do not have) to indicate that I know I don't own the image, and to tell people where it originally came from. This is what we ask you to do with bibliographies and Works Cited documents: to indicate that you know what you did and did not create, and to give credit where credit is due. Now, because you are doing this for educational purposes, you are largely protected from when you fail to do this properly, but when you do this on your own, the SOPA provisions will give companies the ability to shut down your websites, your online accounts, if they believe or simply claim that you have violated their copyrights. No notification, no request, no official channels, just the power to unilaterally shut you down. But using this image — even with attribution — without permission, the owners of Salon Internet, Inc. could shut down this blog.

This blog — being an official Blogger™ blog — is hosted by Google, and subject to their Terms of Service. In that TOS is the exhortation that I not engage in illegal activity, and copyright violation is illegal. Google would prefer that I not simply redistribute stuff that doesn't belong to me. However, Google is indicating lack of support for this bill. One could, as some senators have done, interpret that this means that Google is pro-piracy. However, I prefer to think of it as Google not being in favor of businesses being given the powers of copyright law enforcement.

Libraries believe in access to information. Libraries understand that information is not free, and spend umpteen thousands of dollars every year to purchase access to information so that people can use it, gain from it, and share in it. We believe in upholding copyright so that people who create, compile, edit, and publish information receive the appropriate compensation so that they will continue to provide books, films, articles, songs, webpages, and images for our edification and enjoyment. The free internet is not free, and it needs protection. But it needs to be protected justly, equally, and not in a way that gives companies and copyright holders an unfair advantage over their audience.

Related Links:

Official Google Blog: Don't Censor the Web

Fight for the Future: Stop American Censorship

Fight for the Future: Video explaining the potential effects of SOPA and the Protect IP Act

The Wikimedia Foundation: Why Wikipedia Has Gone Dark A technical examination of SOPA and PROTECT IP

McSweeney's: A Day's Worth of Facts to get you through Wikipedia's 24-Hour Blackout

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