Yesterday websites across the country have purposely blacked out their pages so visitors will see only information about Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act. Among the organizations joining this fight is the Center for Media Justice–the place where I work–as well as our campaign site for Latinos for Internet Freedom, Black Voices for Internet Freedom and the Media Action Grassroots Network.
Admittedly there is a lot of language that makes these Acts hard to understand. Words like ‘intellectual property’, ‘infringer’ and ‘rogue sites’ hardly makes for good conversation. This is part of the problem—the language makes it feel like you have to be a tech guru, Copyright Attorney or Geek extraordinaire before you see the relationship of these Acts to your life. Sadly, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Why? Because the truth is, SOPA and PIPA will affect everyone and will disproportionately impact communities of color.
There are a number of social justice and human rights issues at stake. I won’t go into them all—but I encourage folks to check-out the writing of Colorlines and Color of Change on SOPA/PIPA as well as the ‘justice-based’ talking points that Center for Media Justice created.
What I’m going to focus on are three issues I think matter to Latinos (and other communities of color) that have more to do with our self-determination and less to do with bits and bytes.
As a community we deserve to be seen and heard. In today’s digital world that increasingly means platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, websites, etc. Sure we use these spaces for socializing, and gossip… AND we also use them to organize and advocate for the social and economic changes we need. We depend on an open Internet to elevate our collective voice, preserve our culture and strengthen our collective identity—in all kinds of nuanced ways. If Congress passes these online censorship models—our voices are limited. In Gringolandia they call that “free speech” but let’s be clear, its much more than speech we are protecting. Language is a central feature of human identity and what we say and how we say it matters. When we speak (in whatever format) we’re engaging in a process that’s both internal and external. We’re sharing information about ourselves, and we’re also participating in a process that helps to define “who we are.” When the full potential of our voice is threatened, we are forced into a space where others have the power to dictate “who we should be.”
Do we really need another avenue for ICE to be present in our communities?
As intellectual property becomes tied to national security it’s more important than ever that we understand the ways in which the digital landscape and its borders become yet another territory subject to policing and “securing.” If SOPA/PIPA passes, when sites are shut down, ICE is one of the agencies that can come after you. Sure they say it’s about online piracy—but we all know how ICE and its supporters are already caught up in a ‘criminal’ narrative. Is it so hard to imagine that today’s search for pirates could morph into a wider search under the banner of ‘security’ and ‘illegality.’ It may be a stretch—but it’s not impossible to imagine this slippery slope, especially when you look at the anti-migrant supporters–Lamar Smith, enough said.
Property Rights, Human Rights, Cultural and Collective Rights
I know there is a lot to unpack here. Let me just say for the sake of a short blog post that 512 years of occupation should encourage us to weigh in on ANY laws that impact the knowledge, creativity, unique world views and ways of being that reside in our communities. We should be especially vigilant about any laws that could limit our ability to transmit this information—through any medium–between and among ourselves and to future generations through specific cultural channels and designated community knowledge holders. The idea that online piracy somehow rises to the level of national concern and that the very IPR rules that have codified, patented, copyrighted and appropriated our traditional knowledge should be trusted and/or strengthened, should be a source of concern for everyone. This is especially true for the First Peoples’ within our community who have long advocated about the way in which information is treated as an asset in need of protection, at the expense of the peoples’ who are its caretakers. This is of course much more complex, but the point is if we let others define this fight, and define the frontiers of the struggle—it won’t include the spectrum of issues that could in fact impact the overall health and wellbeing of our communities.