An OpEd in today's Wall Street Journal by Stan Liebowitz on the recent SOPA/FIFA furor is spot on. Most of the opposition to SOPA/PIPA is misguided. The "free speech" argument originated with people who either oppose intellectual property rights or want to substantially weaken existing copyright law. If you really believe piracy (stealing) is wrong but that SOPA/PIPA are flawed, then suggest a better way to combat piracy.
Critics of these proposed laws claim that they are unnecessary and will lead to frivolous claims, reduce innovation and stifle free speech. Those are gross exaggerations. The same critics have been making these claims about every previous attempt to rein in piracy, including the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that was called a draconian antipiracy measure at the time of its passage in 1998. As we all know, the DMCA did not kill the Internet, or even do any noticeable damage to freedom—or to pirates.
What have been damaged are industries susceptible to piracy—that is the unlicensed reproduction and/or sale of music, movies, books and other products that belong by law to the people who made them. For example, my analysis of statistics from the Radio Industry Association of America clearly reveals the decimation of the sound-recording industry since 1999. The cumulative sales losses, since the ascendancy of the music-sharing site Napster, amount to $70 billion (inflation adjusted) in the U.S. and about twice that amount for the entire world. In percentage terms, inflation-adjusted yearly sales are down more than 50% in the U.S. and the rest of the world. Any industry experiencing a decline of this magnitude would consider it a catastrophe. And it has been brought about by theft, not creative destruction from a superior product.
Similarly, people such as Declan McCullagh make the argument that privacy demands are just a cover for squelching free speech. But keep this in mind: people are making money tracking you, selling advertising keywords to pirates, and even running ads on sites featuring pirated content. It's disingenuous to describe such activity as innocent free speech.