If you’re reading this on Wednesday January 18, 2012 and you decide to head over to Wikipedia for a quick read up on the history of Gilligan’s Island you’ll be greeted with a black screen of protest. Or maybe you want to spend some quality time on Reddit or BoingBoing… nope, they’re black. Oh well, at least there’s always LOLcats at ICanHasCheezburgers…. wait… NO! In this world gone mad not even the Thai Food Blog is safe!!!!!
All these sites and others have pledged to conduct a one day internet shutdown as a symbolic protest over two bills that are making their way through the United States Congress. Apparently with complete disregard for the fact once you go black, you don’t go back.
As a way of joining in, all of our links within this article will go to the “dark sites” participating in the protest. After all, who needs to check facts during an internet protest. Just take our word that everything you read here is the gospel truth…
So what the hell is SOPA?
It is a winner take all fight to the death between Media Giants (MPAA, RIAA) vs Tech Giants (Google, Facebook). These bills, SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) were designed to put a check to online piracy – a move that is very popular with organizations like the MPAA and RIAA who see people enjoying and sharing entertainment freely as the first sign of the apocalypse. But the bill, in its current state, grants to the government the power to block websites that not only host, but link to sites that illegally use copyright infringed work.
How the hell does it work?
Because it’s difficult for U.S. companies to take legal action against “rogue” foreign sites (like The Pirate Bay) SOPA’s aim is to cut off pirates ability to do business by requiring U.S. search engines, video hosts, advertising networks and other providers to not allow them to use their services. That would mean sites like Google couldn’t show flagged sites in their search results, and sites like PayPal couldn’t process payments for them. It would also mean sites like YouTube would go dark because user uploaded material that may violate copyright law.
These tactics where used to some degree to try and kill Wikileaks when Paypal, Visa, MasterCard, Amazon and others blocked them from using their services. That in turn lead to the group Anonymous to launch Operation Payback that snowballed into a wave of hacking attacks. The big deference being those where voluntary actions by service providers and they where not under any legal obligation to do so.
Why the hell should I care?
The bills are controversial because they would change the digital landscape if they became law and murder millions of kittens. It could mean the shut down of many user generated content sites and force them to enact dictatorial policing actions.
Google and Facebook, are known for never selling their user information to third parties (ahem!), are weighing in on this obtrusive action of the government calling it censorship. Yes, there is no shortage of irony:
But I digress….
You may be asking yourself, isn’t copyright infringement already illegal? Why yes it is. The way copyright enforcement currently works now is if a copyright holder sees an act of infringement, let’s say on Youtube, they can issue a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) Warning. The other side can protest this warning and use many of the legal copyright defenses (like fair use or parody). If they can’t come to terms, the matter can be taken to the courts. But this is only effective in sites based in the United States.
SOPA steps up the action by giving the government the power to shut down access to sites that infringe on copyright material. And the shut down is being done at the point of accusation, which means just the whiff of infringement could lead to a shut down.
SOPA’s critics say the bill’s backers just don’t understand the interwebs’ series of tubes, and therefore don’t appreciate the implications of the legislation.
When the hell does this go into effect?
In its current form most likely never. It was expected to fly through committee then on to approval in the House. But now after the interwebs went batshit, it’s being extensively “reworked.”
The White House said the original legislation’s technical provisions “suggests that they pose a real risk to cybersecurity,” and that it wouldn’t support legislation that mandates manipulating the Internet’s technical architecture.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has said SOPA won’t come up for a committee vote as-is.
They plan to resume revision of the bill in February and it likely is to last for months. That means the bill could change a lot from day to day. One thing is for sure, these giants will continue to fight it out for years to come, crushing us all in their wake.
Perhaps this time the Tech Firms have a valid points, but make no mistake neither side really cares about your freedoms. Especially when they conflict with profits.