It isn’t often that the whole Internet agrees on a single topic. Knowing how rare this occasion actually is makes yesterday’s mass blackout in response to the Stop Online Piracy Act all the more special. The unprecedented strike ledthousands of websites to replace their main page with a redirect to one of the many online petitions and applications coded to allow user to quickly send a response to officials in regards to SOPA. I thought it was too gimmicky at first, but was a believer by the time Wikipedia reported higher than average page hits and 12 of the congressman who had been backing the legislation withdrew their support.
Some analysts downplayed the significance saying that most of the active respondents were merely jumping on the bandwagon. I think all that yesterday did was cause people to get proactive in their response. It’s clear that the Internet community at large is wholly against the SOPA bill and any variation thereof. Instead of writing about it in an article or on Facebook yesterday, they wrote about it in a letter, to a congressman. Technology flexed its muscles in the application developed that not only looked up the contact information of your congressman for you, but also generated a contact form for an e-mail (though they suggested you use a phone call).
What is SOPA Really?
Basically SOPA will give more power to owners of intellectual property when pursuing legal action against websites that infringe on the creator’s copyright without adhering to “Fair Use” (Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act). In its current form the creators of an IP will not be able to pursue remuneration, but will be able to request that the material in question to be removed until there is a hearing. SOPA also penalizes websites for linking to sites that infringe on copyrighted material, and it holds websites accountable for content posted by users. Fair use is vague as is, so many people are misunderstanding the scope of the actual law (it will not shut down the Internet as we know it).
The significant problem with SOPA and bills like it is that it leaves much of the future of the Internet in the hands of the courts. Judges may interpret the legislation different in the future, and the interpretation is by in large subjective to the viewpoints of law enforcement agencies, the judicial system, and even individuals who will have the ability to file for a court order. The only significant piracy that would be stopped is from torrent sites, but pirates would adapt and be affected very little in the grand scheme of things.
Who Supports SOPA? We All Seem to Hate it!
If you are like many people and get your news from a computer you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in support of SOPA other than a few holdouts in congress. In a popular vote SOPA wouldn’t stand the slightest chance, and would surprise me if it garnered more than 5 percent of the total vote. There are supporters however, and while it took a special widget that did the work for us to get messages out to our representatives, the recording industry and Hollywood studios are showing their support in person and with monetary donations on a daily basis.
I’m a writer, and the majority of online content consists of articles. All of my writer friends are against SOPA even though it would give us more power to collect damages in a case of plagiarism. The current method of sending a DMCA notice to offending websites is adequate, and the majority of online content creators do not have the money to pursue a website over a single violation of Copyright law. SOPA is fueled by the people who had the FBI notice and $25,000 fine put on VHS tapes, the executives and Metallica members who lobbied against Napster, and large software corporations who actually depend largely on the pirated versions of their software to keep their position as an industry standard.
Is it Over? Did We Win?
As an active participant in the ongoing technology discussion I get a chance to see the various online responses, and the way you win SOPA in the long run might just be the same way that Anonymous runs denial of service attacks. By using technology to easily crowd source the proper actions America overwhelmed their Representatives and Senators yesterday. Keep in mind that yesterday was just a short battle in what is determined to be an ongoing war. It’s a war that the Internet is destined to lose unless we learn how to strike first to prevent special interests from buying their way out from under public opinion. They’ll just keep refining the bill until something passes, and then subjective authorities will finish the rest.
The major victory yesterday was in the technology. By using redirects voluntarily placed on popular websites, the opposition to SOPA was heard loud and clear. One of the primary answers to SOPA is that a new law will not stop online piracy, but we may be able to use technology itself to do it without creating casualties out of legitimate enterprise. If we can work together and beat congress, we can work together and defeat the type of piracy that is a problem. Even if we are fighting a losing battle against a U.S. government that is set on bringing the rule of law to the Internet, we may be able to call it a win by minimizing the damage done to the websites we love.