Wikipedia, Reddit, BoingBoing, Mozilla, MoveOn.org and many others have all gone dark for the day. It’s part of a move to boycott two controversial anti-piracy bills: the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its senate counterpart, the Protect IP Act (PIPA). If you’re one of the nearly two billion people who use the internet, then the chances are these two bills could make a big impact on your life, if they are passed.
PIPA and SOPA Explained
PIPA and SOPA call for a crackdown on copyright infringment by restricting access to sites that host pirated material. SOPA targets overseas “rogue” sites that offer illegal digital downloads of movies and music. Battling piracy is nothing new (Napster, anyone?) but taking action against foreign sites can be difficult. Meantime, critics of SOPA say its a matter of defending online freedom. Jon Tennent, a Campus Ambassador for Wikipedia, says, “These bills are overreaching… It’s a dangerous legal environment in Congress right now.”
Hollywood vs. Silicon Valley
While the Country Music Association, the Motion Picture Association of America and others support the bills because piracy threatens the entertainment industries’ livelihood, Internet entities such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and others say the bill has major consequences. Both sides do agree on one thing: protecting copyright infringment is a worthy goal. The internet companies say they would be held responsible if their users linked to pirated content. The bills could require your internet provider to block websites that are involved in digital filesharing, and therefore the sites would not show up in search engines.
The 1998 Digital Millenium Copyright Act
Yes, DMCA already makes copyright infringment illegal, but the problem is it’s useless against overseas sites. However, SOPA would stop U.S. companies from providing services to their sites, and make it harder for American Internet users to find and access the sites. SOPA goes a step further and also potentially makes the site operators responsible for content that their users upload. That would pose a major threat for sites like YouTube. Jon Tennent asserts, “We can’t hold platforms accountable for what the users post.”
SOPA is on hold for now. A hearing to disscuss how it would function technically has been delayed. A vote on PIPA is scheduled for January 24th.
There are two vital and worthy issues here: cracking down on copyright infringement and asserting freedom of speech. Maybe the question is how do we crack down on copyright infringment without violating freedom of speech? Perhaps our lawmakers need to go back to the drawing board and craft a bill that doesn’t infringe on first ammendments rights. We want to hear from you. What are your thoughts on the bills?