By Carl van Tonder

Dear everyone,

Thank you for your concern over SOPA/PIPA. I find your attitude towards online censorship puzzling, however.

Friends in the UK, your internet is almost certainly *already being filtered*, thanks to the Internet Watch Foundation (mission statement: THINK OF THE CHILDREN). We have not passed anything like SOPA/PIPA (forgetting the Digital Economy Act for a moment, which certainly had its own serious problems, but did not mandate censorship), yet almost every Internet Service Provider in the UK “voluntarily” implements the IWF’s block-list, and the theoretical option to switch providers to avoid their filtering is not open to many. The group is opaque, unaccountable, unelected and incompetent — Wired wrote an excellent article on it in 2009.

And friends in the US, you who have actually managed to convince at least 10 senators to withdraw their support for PIPA, what is *your* fixation with the law? Needless to say, a legal action is not de facto a moral one, and government and corporate censorship has been going on (legally!) for years. SOPA/PIPA are nothing but the finishing touches to a years-long project to normalise online censorship: Immigration and Customs Enforcement regularly “seizes domain names” (read: censors websites), often without justifying the move in front of a judge — sometimes blocking the wrong site entirely, for months at a time (Google for “Dajaz1 ICE” to find out more). And today, with an unprecedented sense of dramatic timing, has been shut down by “prosecutors in Virginia” (nothing to do with the Universal Music Group lawsuit against MU, honest!).

It’s fantastic to see so many people engaging in a political issue, but it’s absolutely heart-breaking that your reactions have been to get behind a campaign grounded in asking the politicians to fix it. Who, exactly, do you think passed the DCMA or Hadopi laws, and who do you think wrote SOPA/PIPA? Who set up the IWF, or ICE? Who laid the framework for super-injunctions in the UK (think “Trafigura” not “Ryan Giggs”)?

Spread the word about online censorship that’s *already happening*. Don’t forget that many of the organisations (with the honourable exception of Wikipedia) blacking out yesterday against corporate control of the internet are themselves large corporations, and the law-makers agreeing with it are as likely to change their minds as soon as the world’s back is turned.

We cannot trust our representatives to take care of this issue for 363 days of the year: we let them, and they’ve failed. Don’t give them another chance.

Yours Sincerely,


– this was first published as a Facebook note to some of Carl’s friends.