After last week's online protests by the likes of Wikipedia, Reddit and others, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its sister legislation, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), appear to have had their journey through the U.S. Congress indefinitely stopped. Representatives of both the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee and the U.S. Senate announced last Friday that voting on the anti-piracy bills would be postponed "until there is wider agreement on the issue."
This has been presented as a victory for the forces that had aligned against the bills out of concern the legislation amounted to censorship. Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican who helped develop SOPA as the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, even appeared to cite last week's protests as the main reason his bill needed to be delayed: "I have heard from the critics and I take seriously their concerns regarding proposed legislation to address the problem of online piracy," he said when announcing the SOPA postponement.
But anyone who thought the battle over internet content regulation will soon fade away is likely mistaken. The day following last Wednesday's internet blackout protest, file-sharing site Megaupload was raided and shut down for violating copyright. (The site was based in New Zealand, but fell under U.S. jurisdiction due to its .com handle.) While this has raised an interesting discussion about whether SOPA is necessary if American authorities can already take down foreign-based file-sharing entities, it also shows that there remains a huge appetite in the U.S. to crack down on online piracy.
Today the focus of attention moved to Poland, where authorities reacted to hacking attacks against government websites in protest against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), an international copyright treaty that Poland was set to sign on Thursday and which opponents have branded as a greater threat to intellectual freedom than either SOPA or PIPA.
ACTA is a trade agreement that seeks to harmonize copyright protection across signatory countries, including most members of the European Union, the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan and others. As an agreement, it is not subject to the same deliberative process that would face a sovereign piece of legislation.
Polish officials insisted today they would go ahead with plans to sign on to ACTA, in spite of protests that saw several official websites attacked -- including that of the prime minister, whose site today featured the following message from a group identifying itself as the "Polish Underground": "Stop ACTA! Prime Minister Donald Tusk is a bad person! You won't be censoring the Internet for us. You won't take away human rights!"
Michael Boni, the Polish minister of administration and digitization, said that his government would not be swayed by the hackers' activities. "The ACTA agreement in no way changes Polish laws or the rights of Internet users and Internet usage," and Poland will sign ACTA as planned, he said.
What do internet activists have against a trade agreement that many countries have already signed in a bid to prevent copyright theft? The following video, posted by YouTube user 1TheRevolutionIsNow and credited to hacking group Anonymous, presents the opponents' point of view:
On Sept. 30, 2011, the Canadian government signed ACTA. To read the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade's summary of the arguments in favour of the agreement, visit here:
January 18, 2012 Along with many other prominent websites - including Mozilla, Reddit, Boing Boing, Wordpress, Good.is and around 7,000 other sites - Wikipedia's English site imposed a 24-hour blackout today to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act currently before the U.S. Congress. Other sites like The Daily What include a message about the legislation when you arrive. You can find out more about the blackout right here.
Of course, if you're looking for a general encyclopedic resource online, there are always the standard sources like Encyclopedia Britannica - where you can find information that is actually vetted by experts before it's published - and Scholarpedia and Encyclopedia.com.
Some of the other contenders out there are just... less than stellar. For example, infoplease.com, which just doesn't quite stack up to the simple interface of Wikipedia:
And there are some low-tech protests at work, too, like this re-imagining of Don McLean's 'American Pie' by YouTube user LaughPong, called 'The Day the LOLCats Died':
CHEAT SHEET: SOPA And The Battle For Content On The Internet
January 17, 2012
Even those with no interest in such arcane matters as internet piracy, copyright infringement and the protection of intellectual property in the digital age know at least one of the consequences of the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act currently before the U.S. Congress: There's no way to visit Wikipedia tomorrow.
The online, crowd-sourced encyclopedia, which gets up to 25 million visits every day from people looking to find information on everything from the Peloponnesian War to Rihanna's discography, will go dark tomorrow in protest against SOPA and its sister bill, PIPA (the Protect IP Act). Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales announced Monday that his site - the sixth most popular destination on the internet - will be unavailable for 24 hours in an effort to raise opposition to legislation Wales considers "destructive."
"While we regret having to prevent the world from having access to Wikipedia for even a second," Wales said, "we simply cannot ignore the fact that SOPA and PIPA endanger free speech both in the United States and abroad, and set a frightening precedent of Internet censorship for the world."
Wikipedia's protest will be joined by other major online outlets, including Reddit, Boing Boing, Mozilla, WordPress and TwitPic, while Google is planning to express its opposition to SOPA through its homepage.
Supporters of SOPA, on the other hand, have taken issue with the tempest coming out of Silicon Valley. Rupert Murdoch, for one, has taken to Twitter to express his displeasure with SOPA complaints ("nonsense," he called it), while the Motion Picture Association of America has said that "those that seek to preserve and profit from the status quo have moved to obstruct reasonable legislation."
So what, exactly, has everyone so riled up? Is this just an obscure legal battle between internet nerds and greedy media companies? (Or greedy internet companies and media nerds?)
Here is some of the discussion both for and against (and about) SOPA currently taking place:
1. What is SOPA?
The Stop Online Piracy Act is a bill that came before the U.S. House of Representatives in October, introduced by Texas Congressman Lamar Smith. You can take a look at the bill in full here:
If, however, you find parsing U.S. legislation a bit cumbersome, you might want to refer to a more concise summary.
CNN Money has assembled a handy summary of the bill and its potential impact:
Analyst Julianne Pepitone writes that SOPA's intended targets are foreign-based sites like Pirate Bay, which enable illegal downloads and access to copyright-protected digital content. The legislation goes after the U.S.-based search engines, ad networks and payment systems that lets users find the "pirates" in the first place, seeking to choke off the pirates by restricting the internet architecture in which they live.
According to CNN, SOPA "potentially puts site operators on the hook for content their users upload. A site could be deemed a SOPA scofflaw if it takes 'deliberate actions to avoid confirming a high probability' that its service will be used for copyright infringement. That kind of swampy language has tech companies spooked. 'YouTube would just go dark immediately,' Google public policy director Bob Boorstin said at a conference last month. 'It couldn't function.' "
If you're willing to delve a little more deeply into the legislation (and who isn't?), you can also check out Al-Jazeera, which posted a comprehensive summary of the SOPA situtation:
For other summaries of the bill, check out some of the links at the bottom of the page.
2. The Opposition
Who is against SOPA? As indicated above, tech companies have been outspoken in their opposition to the legislation. At issue are two concerns about the bill:
1. It will not do anything to deter piracy or torrent hubs.
2. It will unfairly punish (and possibly destroy) legitimate internet companies not actually involved in breaching copyright.
While it isn't hard to find editorial arguments outlining these points, especially from web companies -- check the links at bottom of the page -- an excellent summary of SOPA's flaws was posted last month and updated again today by Omar El Akkad in the Globe and Mail.
Calling it "the worst Internet law ever proposed" and a "blueprint for ruining the internet", El Akkad articulates why sites like Facebook are particularly concerned:
"Somebody used an unauthorized Maroon 5 song in that summer vacation video they posted on your social network? The entire site now falls under SOPA's penalty clauses."
3. The Supporters
The United States House of Representatives published a list of supporters of the bill, and it includes many of the media companies one might expect to be concerned about protecting copyright.
One major campaigner in favour of the legislation has been the aforementioned MPAA, which has been updating its blog regularly, reacting most recently to the White House's statement of concerns about SOPA and taking on those who would argue that theft of intellectual property is somehow harmless:
"[The] main argument is that theft has a negligible economic impact - only some inefficiency - because theft is beneficial: that is, the consumers who access stolen content can choose to use the money they 'saved' to purchase other products. Extending this argument, shoplifting has no economic impact since shoplifters can spend the money they 'saved' on other products, a perspective which runs counter to treatment of crime in other 'costs of crime' studies."
And of course there's Rupert Murdoch, owner of one of the most powerful media companies in the world, whose Tweets on the subject include the following:
Wikipedia: Stop Online Piracy Act
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