This past week a phenomenon hit the internet, as many websites blacked out content or even went completely black in protest of two bills now under consideration: Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA).
“I believe the blackouts really got the message out, especially to those who don’t really have a clue what this is about. It just sparked curiosity and through that curiosity a large-scale movement of knowledge occurred,” said student Sarah Elison. “If the internet were censored, stuff like this would probably be blocked, and these movements would no longer occur.”
SOPA was proposed by the House Judiciary Committee Chair Representative Lamar Smith, with the official description being, “To promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property, and for other purposes.”
In short, the bill is meant to stop foreign countries from streaming stolen property, mainly movies and music. For this reason, the bill’s biggest supporters are the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America.
The other bill, PIPA, was introduced by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy. Similar to SOPA, this bill would scout out websites offending copyright laws and completely shut down the website without warning and then proceed to block the IP address of the offenders, so they would never be able to reopen their website.
“Some of my favorite sites like TheOatmeal and Reddit are fighting against the bills, and for good reason because if they pass, the government can just go and find one thing they think violates it and shut them down for good,” said student Michael Thomas.
Besides TheOatmeal and Reddit, other major websites such as Google, Wikipedia, Craigslist, as well as small-scale sites, darkened their content in protest of the proposed bills. Instead, messages of “Don’t let the government control our internet,” and “If you don’t want your favorite sites to be censored write to your representatives now” were plastered all over these popular sites, as well as links to pages of local representatives and other ways patrons could help the protest.
The result of the blackout didn’t completely kill the bills, but did defer when they were to be voted on until they could be rewritten. The original date was set for Jan. 24, but has been delayed until a compromise can be reached.
“I have heard from the critics and I take seriously their concerns regarding proposed legislation to address the problem of online piracy,” Smith said recently in a statement. “It is clear that we need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products.”
The movement not only caused commotion among users, but also stirred up supporters in Congress. On Nov. 16, 2011 when the PIPA bill was originally announced, only one Senator was publicly opposed to it. As of Jan. 18, 2012, 34 Senators now oppose it, proving that the general public can make a difference in the eyes of the government. The movement even had an impact close to home, with Senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski changing their views to oppose PIPA. Representative Don Young has yet to take a stance on SOPA.