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the great internet blackout

20 Jan

Since you are obviously an Internet user, you must have run into some information about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and it’s sister legislation called the Protect IP [Intellectual Property] Act (PIPA). If you had not heard about these proposals before Wednesday, January 18th, you may have run into odd “blackouts” on sites like Google, Wikipedia, and WordPress (yes, the very site that hosts this blog), among many, many others. Looking at the names of these two bills, you may think that their names make them sound like a good thing. We all like pirates (yay, Johnny Depp!), but not the kind of pirates who steal people’s copyrighted material and make money off of them.  This, we all agree, is wrong and illegal.

The wording of these proposals is currently very vague.  To be very simplistic, the only things that SOPA and PIPA do is protect the rights of artists and they apply due process to judge infringement claims. That’s it. There are a lot of words in the acts that are unexplained and leave a lot of doors open with what they can actually apply the laws to.  Under these bills, you may not be able to get to a site you were looking for because of the imposed breakdown of DNS (Domain Name System), which is essentially the “switchboard” of the Internet.

Response from Google Chrome when Facebook.com could not be reached.

Due to the amount of censorship and lack of clarity about how the censoring works, “SOPA would reduce freedom of expression and undermine the dynamic, innovative global Internet…[and it] would impose harmful regulations on American business and slow economic growth in the U.S.” (Greg Jarobe, SEO-PR president).

Another issue is a website shutdowns or dismantlements.  If someone makes a claim about copyright infringement, they can contact advertisers and payment processors and make claims about the infringement to have the services disabled, without notice or a chance to respond from the website owner.

If you went on the Internet at all on Wednesday (January 18th), chances are you ran into least one website that was participating in the “blackout.” Sites Oatmeal.com and Wikipedia, whose content is user generated and created (hence the definition of a wiki, being collaborative information) are very concerned with the SOPA and PIPA act.

Screenshot of Oatmeal.com from January 18th, 2012

Screenshot of Wikipedia.com from January 18, 2012

Images from: Oatmeal.com and Wikipedia.com.

Sites like Google and WordPress did something a little different, but still participated in the protest.

Screenshot of Google.com from January 18, 2012

Screenshot of WordPress.com from January 18, 2012

Images from Google.com and WordPress.com

My friend Jim Sabataso and I, among other friends, changed our Facebook profile pictures and only posted, on both our Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, about SOPA and PIPA, including passing on the petition to stop the bills.  Did the protest work? Sort of is my honest answer.  Reports came in that at least fifteen Senators who originally signed their endorsement of SOPA pulled out by some time Thursday (January 19th).  But there is still some power behind both the bills and it isn’t over yet.

There is an alternative to these bills and it’s something that no one really seems to be discussing.  An act that has been drawn up that many opponents of SOPA and PIPA support.  This is called the OPEN act. This act seems like the most reasonable alternative, keeping in mind the creators of materials as well as keeping the Internet free and open. KeepTheWebOpen.com has created this great infographic to compare the three current proposals.

OPEN vs SOPA vs PIPA comparison

Infographic from KeepTheWebOpen.com.

If you use the Internet at all, which you must since you found my blog, I beg of you to keep your eyes on this. I hate to slap on a freedom of speech campaign onto my blog, but it is something that I have always felt so lucky to have. It is sad to me to think that instead of truly solving a problem, lawmakers want to essentially sweep it under the rug.

I have linked some sites that give better explanations of the bills then I ever could, including some that don’t seem to fully support the protest. So keep your eye on what’s going on with these bills.  No matter if you are a webmaster, business owner, student, parent, or casual internet browser, they DO directly affect you.

Research on SOPA, PIPA, and OPEN from, and to find out more visit:

Lifehacker

SearchEngineWatch

Wall Street Journal

Slate

Business Review USA

Tech Crunch

The New Yorker

Google: SOPA Blackout

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