On Wednesday, January 18, thousands of websites are offline in protest of two anti-piracy bills currently being considered by Congress— the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). SOPA and PIPA are currently under debate in the United States House of Representatives and the Senate. respectively. The intention of these bills is to prevent copyright infringement by foreign websites, but many website owners, companies, and individuals who create content on the Internet fear that the bills are so vague they could result in censorship and restriction of free speech.
Some of the organizations and individuals who oppose this legislation—including Wikipedia, Reddit, Wordpress, MoveOn, Boing Boing, and Twitpic—have chosen to black out their websites throughout the day to generate awareness about the issues surrounding SOPA and PIPA, and to encourage visitors to contact their representatives in support of modifying or abandoning the bills in their current form.
Supporters of SOPA and PIPA, such as the Motion Picture Association of America, claim that jobs in the film, television, and media industries are threatened by foreign websites that offer copyrighted material for free. The foreign websites cannot be stopped because there is no legislation currently in effect to allow the government to target these websites. Supporters also assert that this new legislation would be used primarily against routine, foreign violators of copyright laws, not against American organizations and individuals.
Opponents of the bills believe that SOPA and PIPA will allow intellectual property holders, with the assistance of the United States government, to blacklist entire websites and traffic to those websites by filing a single copyright-infringement claim. Under the proposed legislation, say opponents, if a claim is filed against a video posted to YouTube, for example, then YouTube in its entirety could be blocked, those who seek to circumvent these blocks could be prosecuted, and affiliated advertisement networks and payment processors could be required to cease doing business with YouTube. Opponents also fear that this could also happen on an individual level such that if someone were to post a comment that contains copyright-infringing material to an individual’s blog, the blog could be similarly blocked. These kinds of punishments could be enacted regardless of whether the website owner is taking reasonable steps to prevent copyright-infringing material from appearing on their websites in the first place.
Let the Oberlin community know what you think of SOPA, PIPA, and Blackout Day by leaving a comment.
More information about SOPA and PIPA:
• Ars Technica
• American Censorship
• The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Deeplinks blog
• Library of Congress, SOPA
• Library of Congress, PIPA
• Talking Points Memo
Is there really any question here? SOPA and PIPA are bad for our country in countless ways (promoting censorship, threatening freedom of speech, hurting our one thriving industry, the list goes on), and their passage would ultimately damage the stability of the internet as a whole. Piracy is a problem, yes, but granting our government this sort of power is absolutely the wrong way to approach solving such a problem.
Blackout Day has the potential to drastically raise awareness (example, see Twitter's SOPA/PIPA related stats today:https://twitter.com/#!/twitter/status/15979657656965529), particularly with Wikipedia going dark — every person kvetching about being wiki-less is forced to acknowledge WHY the site is participating. The more people made aware of the threat of SOPA & PIPA, the more people contacting their representatives. The louder the voice of the internet, working against the voices of entertainment lobbyists, the more likely our representatives might actually start listening. How is that anything but good?