SOPA/PIPA and John Milton’s Areopagitica

After much research, I decided to join yesterday’s Internet-wide protest of SOPA/PIPA.

On the surface, SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP) are anti-piracy bills. Antipiracy is a good thing; it’s necessary, and when administered properly it protects artists, writers, musicians, etc. The problem with these bills is that they are so broadly written they go too far and allow for abusive control and censorship — not good things.

SOPA was shelved before yesterday’s protest, but it’s not dead yet. PIPA goes to vote on Tuesday, but support is fading fast. We do need antipiracy laws in place. We most certainly do, but not at the expense of free speech.

As I researched SOPA/PIPA, I remembered a post I did back in June 2010 on Areopagitica, John Milton’s passionate essay on the right to freedom of speech and expression.  I thought it was worth repeating:

Enjoy Freedom of Speech? Thank John Milton

For more details on SOPA or PIPA, this video from Fight for the Future does a great job explaining it.

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Enjoy Freedom of Speech? Thank John Milton

 

A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.
……………………….—  John Milton

On June 14, 1643, the Parliament of England passed a Licensing Order that put publishing under government control.  The Order forced authors to submit their work to official censors for approval before publishing.

The Order was intended to preserve the publishing monopoly held by The Stationers’ Company, but in effect and in practice, it gave the government authority to control free thought via rigid censorship.

John Milton, who later wrote the epic poem Paradise Lost was called to action when he felt the strong arm of government enforcement after publishing his writings in favor of divorce.  In response he wrote Areopagitica, a passionate and enduring essay on the right to freedom of speech and expression.  Civil liberty, Milton reasoned, is attained through the open discussion of ideas and grievances.

Areopagitica, though widely acknowledged, had little influence on Parliament’s Order, but its importance was never forgotten.  The essay has endured as one of the most important and influential essays of free speech ever written, and it was crucial in the development of the First Amendment of the Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

United States Constitution – Amendment 1

In its eloquence, Areopagitica says that truth, all truth, need only to be heard, openly and fairly, to assure its victory over ignorance.

That is a timeless truth.

If you’re as uncertain about the pronunciation of Areopagitica as I was, this YouTube video can help.