Yeah, so…I guess there’s no Wikipedia tomorrow.
I started hearing about the SOPA/PIPA Blackouts today on Twitter. I am an internet junkie – I love blogs and social media. I love instant access to news, maps, updates from friends and family. I am a content-generator and sharer – I blog at two websites and read about 40-60 new blog entries every day. Okay, some of those get more browsed than read, but you get the picture.
However, I am not all that internet savvy. I’m a biology major who went to college when computer science courses were for nerds who had a much better understanding of math than I did. To be fair, that’s probably still true. So, I don’t know how the internet works. I know how to navigate some of the more popular areas of the internet, and that’s about as deep as I get.
But it caught my attention when I learned that Wikipedia and WordPress – the website that hosts this Biodork blog – are “going dark” tomorrow, Wednesday January 18th, 2012, to protest these two bills moving through Congress. I decided that I needed to learn more about SOPA (Stop Internet Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) and to try to find out for myself if they are as offensive and dangerous as some groups and people are saying.
I found this blog post at ABC News. It seems like a easy, non-technical introduction to the SOPA/PIPA controversy. It briefly explains the SOPA and PIPA bills, the ideas behind them, the objections to the bills, and the protest movement that has arisen in response to the bills. It also has current updates on the state of SOPA and PIPA in the Senate and House.
Over at AmericanCensorship.org, there is a simple infographic that lists the implications of SOPA/PIPA becoming law.
Then I searched WordPress to find out why my particular blogging site is participating in the protests. I found this article entitled Help Stop SOPA/PIPA published last week (01/10/12). The post isn’t very good at explaining the details of SOPA and PIPA, instead leaving that job to a Vimeo video called “Protect IP / SOPA Act Breaks the Internet” on a site called fightforthefuture/PIPA.
The video says that PIPA will “give the right to censor the internet to the entertainment industry”.
It explains that “Private corporations want the ability to shut down unauthorized sites where people download movies, TV shows and music.” And that because most of these sites exist outside the US and US jurisdiction, corporations will focus their efforts on shutting down and blocking funding of the infringing sites by going after US-based search engines, directories, blogs, forums, advertisers and payment services.
It highlights some problems with the bills – that it won’t stop downloading, but will encourage less secure work-arounds by hackers, that it would allow corporations to sue companies that they feel aren’t doing a thorough enough job to try to stop copyright violations on their websites, that other countries may follow in our footsteps, leading to “different internets in different countries” and giving unscrupulous governments powerful tools to hinder free expression, and it points out that corporations already have legislation in place to fight piracy.
The video ends with this:
Now the government and corporations could block any site, foreign or domestic, just for one infringing link. Sites like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook would have to censor their users or get shut down since they become liable for everything users post. And ordinary users could go to jail for five years for posting any copyrighted work – even just singing a pop song.
That’s a freaking scary idea, isn’t it?
In other circumstances I’d like to learn more, to speak with people who I think have a better grasp on the implications of SOPA and PIPA than I do. But tomorrow is a country-wide day of protest against these bills, and if they really are as big of a danger as they appear to be in my limited research, then I want to add my voice with other protestors.
So tomorrow I will take a chance of erring in support of those who say that SOPA and PIPA pose a threat to our security, our free speech, our ability to freely share content and exchange ideas with most of the world, and our access to some of our most cherished and important social and media-sharing websites. These freedoms are too precious to not stand up and ask for those in Congress to proceed with caution.
I am not going to “black out” my site. I want to leave this post up here and visible tomorrow. But I will add the ribbon, I will contact my Senators and Representatives with my concerns, and I will try to keep up with the SOPA and PIPA bills as they move through Congress. I will also limit my online activity tomorrow, including this blog.
Am I wrong? Am I missing something? Can you clarify any of the points that I mentioned above? I’d love your input in the comments below. I’ll read them and respond to them…on Thursday.