As many of our readers are fond of pointing out, sustainability means a lot more than protecting the environment. It even goes beyond creating healthy communities and thriving economies. At heart, sustainability depends on good systems of governance—systems that allow for both innovation and accountability, allowing our society to adapt, change, and respond to new challenges and opportunities. A prime example is the emergence of the internet. Our book Seven Wonders for a Cool Planet documents how advances in communications technology can save energy, trees, time, and more.

Here at Sightline, internet advances have enabled us to not only deliver content to you better—via this blog, email, RSS, and social media—but also do our work better and faster. Thanks to the power of an international community of internet users who volunteer their time and talent for the greater good (see, e.g., Wikipedia), research that used to take days or weeks now takes hours, or even minutes.

If you’ve surfed the web today, you probably haven’t gone far without hearing something about two bills—the Stop Online Piracy Act and the PROTECT IP Act, or SOPA and PIPA. These bills take aim at the basic structure of the internet, by giving putative copyright holders the power to shut down websites that they believe infringe on their rights.

Yet the bill overreaches. Sites that link to copyright material—even if only posted by a user or commenter—could risk being shut down without due process. Meanwhile, actual pirates can easily get around restrictions by changing their domains and continue hosting illegal content. In short, it’s like missing a nail with a sledgehammer. (Learn more about the proposed legislation.)

So today, we’re joining a chorus of sites—from Google and Wikipedia to Grist and Reddit—asking visitors to learn about the issue and take action. There are dozens of petitions to stop this act of internet censorship. (Here’s one from Google.)

(Here in the Northwest, Senators Cantwell and Wyden have led the fight against PIPA. Meanwhile Sens. Murray and Merkley remain undecided.)

Internet piracy is a serious problem; rightsholders deserve protection for their work. But this is the wrong approach.

January 18, 2012