The SOPA protest has hit home this last week how much of our Internet life could be affected if the bills go ahead. The free speech, knowledge sharing and un-policed land of the net is under threat from SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act and PIPA, the Protect IP Act, currently being debated by US Congress. The decision will be made next week.
To bring our attention to the two acts and the devastating effects they could have on our Internet use, Wikipedia and a host of other sites such as Reddit, Wired, Google USA, The Verge, and TechCrunch went “dark” last week to show their disagreement over the bills. Wikipedia’s English Language site bore a black screen with the words “For over a decade, we have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history. Right now, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet. For 24 hours, to raise awareness, we are blacking out Wikipedia.”
The blackout stood as a tangible protest against SOPA and PIPA, allowing visitors to the sites to catch a glimpse of how their user experiences would be altered under the legislation, which Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales purports as “badly written” (via bbcnews).
SOPA is ostensibly to protect copyright and IP, both issues close to the home of the graphic design and creative industries. SOPA set out to stop online theft and piracy in the music and film industries, which have suffered the most in the Internet age from peer to peer and torrent file sharing.
The problem lies with the wording of the bills, and you can read a full copy here. The legislation is so restrictive and blanket-covering that many things not linked with theft or IP issues can be considered unlawful. SOPA and PIPA are drafted in such a way that they are able to enforce website owners to police user-contributed material, which would lead to the blocking of entire sites, sites not appearing in search results, and greatly affected access to online information.
User contributed material would also include comments on your blog. Facebook updates, emails, links and social media updates, which then brings home how much could be under fire from the new legislation. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo! openly announced their opposition to SOPA by signing an open letter to Congress. Alexis Ohanian, founder of bookmarking site Reddit said “”The American dream is still alive and kicking,”, “There is no other industry in the world where you can take an investment that’s less than the cost of a Ford Focus, give it to some college students and create a $1bn business.”” (via Guardian.co.uk) It is this innovation and freedom that is threatened by SOPA and PIPA.
The example of Wikipedia’s history and user generated content model is perhaps the strongest in the argument against SOPA and PIPA. The website has snowballed in popularity and usage since launching in 2001 by Wales and Larry Sanger. As a free, collaborative, multilingual Internet encyclopedia it relies on the 100,000 plus regularly active contributors to populate the site with information which we have become accustomed to being able to access easily and readily. The working process of globally collaborative users and mass commenting would suffer under the new acts with their restrictively written clauses.
Twitter founder Dick Costolo tweeted “Closing a global business in reaction to single-issue national politics is foolish” in a Twitter conversation with Jimmy Wales, although his company is against SOPA and signed the protest form by amassed Silicon Valley members. He also added for clarification that his comment was not intended as a “value judgement” about corporations involvement in the protest.
Silicon Valley is publicly against the acts going through Congress; you can protest too by adding your name to the petition, and Tweeting your disagreement. Use the hashtag #stopsopa.