Wikipedia is among hundreds of sites that are dark today in protest of SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act. Other sites where you may find an anti-SOPA message and/or no access to the usual services include Mozilla, Reddit, WordPress, and Boing Boing.
What in the world could motivate major online entities like that to completely fold up shop? To hear Wikipedia’s co-founder Jimmy Wales tell it, nothing short of a threat to their very existence. He says it makes “something like Wikipedia essentially impossible if the provider has to police everything everyone is doing on the site.”
Here’s SOPA in a nutshell. Content owners, like movie studios and record labels, want to stop foreign sites from serving up their content for free without permission. That sounds reasonable enough, right? But here’s what has to happen to make that possible – at least in the opinion of supporters. The law would force Internet Service Providers and search engines like Google to completely cut off access to infringing sites. They’d also have to let the government stop any payments to those sites and force advertisers to not do business with those sites. In short, it would give the government the power to censor and virtually shut down web sites. Yikes.
Here’s how the battle lines are drawn. Hollywood loves SOPA. That includes the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, showbiz-related labor unions, record labels, movie studios, and TV networks. Interestingly, most Internet Service Providers are on board, as are payment processors VISA and Mastercard.
In the other corner are the tech companies; Google, Facebook, Twitter, eBay/PayPal, Foursquare, AOL, Yahoo, Tumblr, Kaspersky, Scribd, etc. These are the companies who would be most burdened by compliance with SOPA as the bill turns them into the hall monitors for every person on the globe using the Internet. How would you like that job? For a while there, the bill even required DNS blocking of offending sites…the death penalty. But SOPA sponsor Rep. Lamar Smith removed those requirements.
SOPA is not expected to hit the House floor until spring, but there’s also a similar bill called PIPA, the Protect Intellectual Property Act. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans on bringing that to the Senate floor on opening day, Jan. 24, despite threats of a filibuster.
If either of these bills does get through, it will have to be by a majority large enough to make a White House veto impossible. Because the administration has given every indication that’s exactly what the President would do. That doesn’t mean they don’t see online piracy as a real problem. It just means they’re looking for legislation that’s not as broad and far-reaching. How the US can get to foreign offenders beyond our jurisdiction is the real problem to solve.
Vitrue is well aware of the drawbacks of SOPA and PIPA.
- They don’t reflect an understanding of the technology or how the Internet works.
- They open up immediate legal challenges around possible Bill of Rights violations.
- They could lead to attacks against open source software, letting software vendors go after such sites because they could be used to enable piracy.
- They could present a threat to cybersecurity as users seek alternative private and foreign DNS servers.
- There have been some indications they would choke off funding to startups burdened with the new regulations.
Below are links you may find useful if you too are concerned with this pending legislation and the effect it would have on Internet freedom.