What did the SOPA and PIPA blackouts really mean?

Wikipedia was one of many sites that "blacked out" in protest of SOPA and PIPA on January 18.

Because all associations rely so much on the Internet for simple to complex tasks, last Wednesday’s blackout in protest of proposed new laws made a huge, lasting impression. So much that Congress postponed their vote on the bills, citing they would like to wait until there is wider agreement on a solution.

But what did all of it really mean? Let’s look at what SOPA and PIPA mean to your use of the Internet.

Last week, a number of Internet sites such as Google and Wikipedia protested The Protect IP Act (PIPA) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)—both of which seek to combat Internet piracy—by “blacking out” content that would be restricted through the passage of these bills. You might ask yourself, why are these trusted brands protesting if this is about preventing piracy? Isn’t that a good thing?

The Tools You Use

Consider this scenario, offered by Todd Drake on Forbes.com. If someone posted a video of their TV screen showing NBC content to Yahoo.co.uk, an Attorney General could order Reddit, for example, to remove every link to Yahoo.co.uk from everywhere on Reddit. Reddit would also need to implement monitoring to make sure no links to Yahoo show up again. Bing would need to drop Yahoo links from results, which would probably be strange, since Yahoo provides the search results. If YouTube was in violation, would embedded clips in pages and search results exist? Finally, it’s completely unclear whether Skype, or other P2P systems like Tor, are covered or not. Search engines (and, probably URL shorteners and anyone with a search box) would be required to drop your links from their results, ad networks stop serving you (or your ads), and your payment provider stops working with you. It’s unclear how you get back online, as well. Would the legal risks now outweigh doing anything at all social online?

Free Speech Violations

Aside from the inconvenience of it all, SOPA and PIPA also have people comparing this type of censorship to that of communist China, which uses a tool called Websense as an Internet filter driving out external news sources. The bills are terribly vague, which creates a major issue for websites like Wikipedia, which provide information on an array of topics, some of which are viewed as controversial. While this act appears benign on the outside, it creates the capacity to institute severe encroachments on free speech rights in the United States.

Open Source…Closed?

Over the years, modification of copy-written material has created products vastly superior to those made by industry executives. The operating system Linux, database manager MySQL and internet domain generator BIND have all been the result of open source projects. It is very possible that if this legislation was to pass, then innovative projects such as these would be deemed illegal. The Creative Commons license that currently provides a flexible range of protections and freedoms for authors, artists and educators would be paralyzed by legal concerns.

The Google home page, the first thing many people see when they open their web browsers, looked like this on January 18.

While both bills seem unpopular with the titans of the Internet, they are popular with many in the film and recording industry. The Motion Picture Association of America has labeled the protests by Google and other sites as “irresponsible’ and “a stunt.” Don’t forget, these comments come from an industry that has lost an estimated $6 billion to piracy, which is still a real problem robbing dollars out of the pockets of hard-working Americans.

For now…

For now, voting on the bills has been postponed and the blackout protest has been deemed a success, with Wikipedia executives saying “A breathtaking majority supported the blackout.” With the bills still alive, it is now up to the federal government to create a streamlined law to combat piracy while still facilitating the freedom and access businesses and every common American has come to expect and rely upon. We’ll be following the situation closely on this blog and will alert you to any new developments.

Jeff Barnhart

President & CEO







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