Today popular internet sites have gone black to protest congressional efforts to limit content sharing on the web by granting entertainment corporations sweeping powers to shutter websites and digital social networks and to intimidate startups. The bills have drawn stiff criticism across the political spectrum, from high-profile tech company spokespeople as well as from citizens in enormous numbers, who argue that the two laws– the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA)– would create collateral damage to free expression and innovation that go far beyond the need to guard against copyright infringement.
SOPA, the House bill, has been temporarily shelved but PIPA, the Senate bill, is chugging along.
Google has digitally black-taped its logo. Reddit is now blacked out but earlier plastered its homepage with a Yoda-style cautionary lecture on the dark-side laws. Wikipedia has posted a dark page that warns about a “world without free knowledge.”
In Colorado, popular politics website ColoradoPols redirects to the SOPA Internet Strike page.
Among the Colorado delegation, only Rep Jared Polis and Sen Mark Udall have taken strong stances against the SOPA PIPA bills. Polis sent out a release in support of today’s online protest.
“Wikipedia and Google’s blackout is part of the largest online protest in history and a clear indication that Internet companies and a growing number of Americans are recognizing the danger SOPA poses to online innovation and job creation, free speech, and the very structure of the Internet.
“We all agree that we should more effectively combat piracy from foreign websites but SOPA wildly misses the mark. If it were to become law it would be ripe for abuse as companies could exploit the private right of action to block a competitor out of existence. SOPA and PIPA would snuff out the spark of innovation and job creation our economy needs right now.”
The clash over the two laws today is the latest battle in a long war.
The entertainment industry has been a main player for two decades in attempting to remake the internet into a less distributed and free space, seeking to wrest back control of proliferating horizontal content flows by resurrecting top-down flows that run through a limited number of gatekeeping centers, in effect working against the very nature of digital-era communication, lifestyles, ways of thinking.
The entertainment industry has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into lobbying lawmakers to pass the laws, dwarfing high-roller tech-industry lobbying against the bill.
Analysts have suggested that the argument against the bills started at a disadvantage in part because there are so few tech-savvy engineers in Congress and because the entertainment argument, on the surface, seems to make sense.
Yet the overreach of the laws become clear, they say, when you look at how the laws might be applied– and abused. How is YouTube, for example, to reasonably guard against users who sing pop songs in family videos and load their videos on to the site. Should YouTube or any other site really guard against such “infringements”? How would Reddit or Twitter or Google guard against users sharing or searching for links to downloaded songs or TV-show clips? Sharing content in such ways is how contemporary mediated human beings communicate. Does Hollywood deserve a cut of each of our online conversations?
Opponents of the bills point out that the copyright laws already on the books in the United States are among the strongest in the world and, in fact, have been under attack for decades for being anachronistic and anti-democratic. As representatives of the people, Congress should be working on reforming those laws, not passing new versions that create greater hurdles to communication and free expression.