What is SOPA/PIPA and Why the Web is Going Dark on January 18, 2012

You may not be too much into technology. You probably don’t go to Mashable and Huffington Post Tech every day. But that doesn’t get you out of what may actually happen if the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) turns into a law. I know, many people give it a go because it sounds so innocent. A bill to stop online piracy. This sounds so innocent that you don’t really understand the affect of it immediately.

There’s a reason why big sites like Facebook, WordPress, Google, AOL, Twitter, eBay and more are protesting the proposed SOPA/PIPA bill while numerous other sites including reddit, Boing Boing, and our very good friend Wikipedia is going dark on January 18, 2012. Check out a list of websites that are supporting the strike in protest of SOPA. The blackout, also known as strike, has some reasons that not only affect their business but also affect us — the end Internet users. Try to look up something on Wikipedia’s English version on January 18 and you’ll suddenly discover what it would be like if SOPA turns into a law.

What is SOPA/PIPA?

SOPA/PIPA – Stop Online Piracy Act/PROTECT IP Act, according to Wikipedia:

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), also known as House Bill 3261 or H.R. 3261, is a bill that was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on October 26, 2011, by House Judiciary Committee Chair Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) and a bipartisan group of 12 initial co-sponsors. The bill, if made law, would expand the ability of U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods.[2] Presented to the House Judiciary Committee, it builds on the similar PRO-IP Act of 2008 and the corresponding Senate bill, the PROTECT IP Act.[3]

The originally proposed bill would allow the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as copyright holders, to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. Depending on who makes the request, the court order could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators, such as PayPal, from doing business with the allegedly infringing website, barring search engines from linking to such sites, and requiring Internet service providers to block access to such sites. The bill would make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content a crime, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison for ten such infringements within six months. The bill also gives immunity to Internet services that voluntarily take action against websites dedicated to infringement, while making liable for damages any copyright holder who knowingly misrepresents that a website is dedicated to infringement.

Proponents of the bill say it protects the intellectual property market and corresponding industry, jobs and revenue, and is necessary to bolster enforcement of copyright laws, especially against foreign websites. They cite examples such as Google’s $500 million settlement with the Department of Justice for its role in a scheme to target U.S. consumers with ads to illegally import prescription drugs from Canadian pharmacies.

Opponents say that it violates the First Amendment, is Internet censorship, will cripple the Internet, and will threaten whistle-blowing and other free speech actions. Opponents have initiated a number of protest actions, including petition drives, boycotts of companies that support the legislation, and planned service blackouts by major Internet companies scheduled to coincide with the next Congressional hearing on the matter.

mozilla protests sopa

Mozilla Protests SOPA.

While this sounds fairly complicated to understand, a blog post on Boing Boing describes it better.

Boing Boing could never co-exist with a SOPA world: we could not ever link to another website unless we were sure that no links to anything that infringes copyright appeared on that site. So in order to link to a URL on LiveJournal or WordPress or Twitter or Blogspot, we’d have to first confirm that no one had ever made an infringing link, anywhere on that site. Making one link would require checking millions (even tens of millions) of pages, just to be sure that we weren’t in some way impinging on the ability of five Hollywood studios, four multinational record labels, and six global publishers to maximize their profits.

[...] Big Content haven’t just declared war on Boing Boing and Reddit and the rest of the “fun” Internet: they’ve declared war on every person who uses the net to publicize police brutality, every oppressed person in the Arab Spring who used the net to organize protests and publicize the blood spilled by their oppressors, every abused kid who used the net to reveal her father as a brutalizer of children, every gay kid who used the net to discover that life is worth living despite the torment she’s experiencing, every grassroots political campaigner who uses the net to make her community a better place — as well as the scientists who collaborate online, the rescue workers who coordinate online, the makers who trade tips online, the people with rare diseases who support each other online, and the independent creators who use the Internet to earn their livings.

Giant Protests

This started with reddit planning to blackout their highly visited network for 12 hours on January 18. Since then, January 18 has turned out to be a day of general web strike against SOPA and PIPA. As you can see from SOPA Strike website, hundreds of sites have joined the protest to show the senators why SOPA will literally kill the Internet for them as well as their consumers — us.

Watch the video below, created by Fight for the Future, which might give you a better understanding of what SOPA/PIPA can cause if made law.

It doesn’t stop at Facebook, Google, eBay, TwitPic, Mozilla, and WordPress’ protest, even game industries have shown silent protest to SOPA.

wikipedia blackout

What you might see when Wikipedia is blacked out.

Why SOPA/PIPA Can Kill the Internet as You Know It

The idea is simple. Let’s say someone uploaded some copyrighted document on Facebook without the permission of the author. This may be just a movie poster or a scanned page from a book, the Act will allow U.S. administrators to shut down Facebook as well as cut off all funding to the site. This should be simple enough for you to understand how it will affect everyone who live on the Internet at present days.

And we — bloggers, are no different. Even the site we blog in, WordPress has released a statement asking everyone to help stop SOPA. WordPress also posted the video above on its site and wrote:

  • In the U.S. our legal system maintains that the burden of proof is on the accuser, and that people are innocent until proven guilty. This tenet seems to be on the chopping block when it comes to the web if these bills pass, as companies could shut down sites based on accusation alone.
  • Laws are not like lines of PHP; they are not easily reverted if someone wakes up and realizes there is a better way to do things. We should not be so quick to codify something this far-reaching.
  • The people writing these laws are not the people writing the independent web, and they are not out to protect it. We have to stand up for it ourselves.

Blogging is a form of activism. You can be an agent of change. Some people will tell you that taking action is useless, that online petitions, phone calls to representatives, and other actions won’t change a single mind, especially one that’s been convinced of something by lobbyist dollars. To those people, I repeat the words of Margaret Mead:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

We are not a small group. More than 60 million people use WordPress — it’s said to power about 15% of the web. We can make an impact, and you can be an agent of change. Go to Stop American Censorship for more information and a bunch of ways you can take action quickly, easily, and painlessly. The Senate votes in two weeks, and we need to help at least 41 more senators see reason before then. Please. Make your voice heard.

What you MUST do

If you’ve checked what WordPress has written in the previous paragraph, you already know what to do. Don’t think that what you do doesn’t matter. Every letter sent to the congress counts. So, go to Stop American Censorship. If you’re a U.S. citizen, send out the already-written letter with your name, email and zip code. If you’re outside the U.S., you can sign the petition to stop SOPA/PIPA being made law. You can find plenty of information regarding this throughout the site.

If you have a website, you can use tools from SOPA strike to blackout your site for 12 hours on January 18 or anytime you want just to spread the word that the freedom of speech in Internet is in danger. It’s us who have to take action to prevent it from happening.

Take action now. Help yourself retaining the freedom of speech on the Internet. Like I already said, piracy must be stopped. But it’s a cripple way to do this.

Update

WordPress.com has published another post on its News Blog stating that the site is blacking out Freshly Pressed for the day as well as enabling all its bloggers to protest SOPA and PIPA.

wordpress.com black out in protest of SOPA/PIPA

WordPress.com blacked out its Freshly Pressed front page content in protest of SOPA/PIPA.

If you’re a WordPress.com blogger, you can go to your Dashboard > Settings > Protest SOPA/PIPA page to support the protest. You can completely blackout your blog’s every page for January 18 or you can show a ribbon on the upper right corner of your blog until January 24, 2012. Join the protest, help stop the dangerous Internet censorship.

stop sopa banner

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19 thoughts on “What is SOPA/PIPA and Why the Web is Going Dark on January 18, 2012

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  7. This is just terrible….SOPA is the equivalent of curing a headache with a guillotine. It may stop piracy, but it would shut down our economy and unconstitutionally erode our most basic freedoms in the process.

    I just hope that everyone realizes how important this is and does their part to save the internet & our economy! …here is another good video that explains the consequences of SOPA pretty well:
    http://www.peeje.com/peeje-goes-strike-stop-web-censorship-bills-congress-209/

    1,000s of more websites have joined the force and went dark today, we need EVERYONES help!!!!

    • The sad thing is that people are thinking it’s a nice bill as it wants to fight online piracy. They fall for the visually innocent name of the bill and don’t bother to understand what’s beneath it.

  8. This is madness! And it’s got to be stopped! What right have they to block our blogs? We cannot sit and check out every nook and cranny of the site we want to link for infringement, we have lives and have better ways to go about living it.

    Free speech is at stake and for them to take that away is …. just insane! I’m not American but I’m trying to do what I can to help put a stop to this insanity and I’ve blacked out my entire blog but I’m not sure how long WP will permit it to be blocked … but there’s always the ribbon until the 24th.
    Awesome post by the way, Wiki seems to be allowing the page about SOPA for everyone to access and the video WP provided was very helpful, but your post helped me to get a better grasp of this sordid situation, thank you.

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  12. I think had this bill become law, the Internet, as we know it, would have become something totally different and controlled.

    That said, this issue won’t go away but will be hiding in the shadows. If more people don’t resist and fight back then the angle of their attack can change.

    • The sad thing is most people don’t bother to know what’s inside it and simply think they should support it because it says “Stop Online Piracy.”

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