Yesterday, a couple of the most used and best-known websites on the internet willingly shut themselves down: Wikipedia and Reddit. Google, you likely noticed, ‘redacted’ its daily Google Doodle. These efforts were to call attention to and protest against the Congressional debates over the ‘Stop Internet Piracy Act’ (SOPA) in the House and the ‘Protect Internet Protocols Act’ (PIPA) in the Senate. And they seem to have worked, as support for either bill has drained away: “We can find a solution that will protect lawful content. But this bill is flawed & that’s why I’m withdrawing my support. #SOPA #PIPA,” Republican Sen. Roy Blunt wrote on his official Twitter page. (Quote from CNN Tech report earlier this morning).
But the concern over online piracy of entertainment and software remains, and SOPA’s political supporters promise to refine new legislative efforts.
The clearest division over SOPA/PIPA runs between media and entertainment corporations (movie studios, music producers, and major software developers) and companies that develop online content and/or move it across the internet (with Wikipedia being perhaps the most famous example). And yet, all parties seem to agree that internet piracy is a problem that must be contended with. It’s the enforcement methods that SOPA’s detractors attack.
The bills would in fact allow media and entertainment corporations to act as both policing authority and jury when they believed their content was being pirated.about an offending site would be enough to sanction the cutting off of funds and/or the blocking of the IP-address of that site. This particular set of provisions is what has caused the most resistance to the acts. Numerous sites and nonprofit lobbying groups (yes, they exist) like PublicKnowledge.org have of piracy and how to stop it.
Though the most heat generated by the bills comes from media companies and content developers, nonprofits should be well aware of the legislation too. If a suspected site brought under SOPA, the accuser has the authority to change or block its DNS (Domain Name Service). If any nonprofit website is linked to that site directly (even in opposition to that site) or passes through that DNS server (which translates our memorable .com/.net/.org addresses into computer-ese numbers for our web browsers), its links could be broken or its content re-routed – all without notification.
To see how a company could use SOPA to drum up legal action against a competing website, see Michael Ham’s interesting story on The Huffington Post.
Though even the original bills’ sponsors are walking away from their own legislation, we should not assume the issue is dead. Piracy of content is a serious issue, and no doubt media producers and entertainment guilds will continue to press for legislation. Nevertheless, we all must continue to strive to make our voices heard if the legislation allows a sweep and condemnation of legitimate content in the name of capturing a few real pirates.