SOPA and the huge deal about censorship

Argh… Pirates?

This is late in the day, but I wanted to talk about SOPA, what SOPA means, how it’s different from PIPA, and why law-abiding citizens should care. Also, I want to poke fun at people who are freaking out about Wikipedia and Google going dark.


Obviously (?), online piracy is the downloading of copyrighted material. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, whether you’ve never download a single MP3 without shelling out 99¢ to iTunes or you’re torrenting all six seasons of Lost at this very moment to burn and sell in Seoul, we all understand that illegally downloading copyrighted material is illegal in the United States. You may not agree with the MPAA or RIAA, but the law is with them. So, ostensibly, laws to prevent piracy are good? Right?

Not your pappy’s censorship

Not these laws, no. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is really unspecific when it details what sites can be blocked and which ones are good to go. Any site that facilitates piracy, such as a site that links to torrent client download pages  or maintains a database of links pointing to illegally uploaded episodes of Doctor Who on MegaUpload. Stop and think about that. Think about all the sites that would be blacklisted.  The site doesn’t have to be dedicated to piracy or even have online piracy as one of its top goals. It just has to facilitate piracy in some way. Like a Google search. Making Google a target for blacklisting.

Protect IP Act (PIPA), however, is slightly more surgical in its censorship. The site has to exist, more likely than not , for the purpose of piracy. PIPA won’t black out Wikipedia for providing information on torrenting and torrent clients. In theory. I’m not sure I want to give anyone the right to judge how much content is “enough” to warrant censorship, and I certainly don’t want the U.S. Congress to be appointed Internet arbiters. Especially when there’s a perfectly fine law already in place to handle Internet copyright infringement: the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA).

SOPA and PIPA were intended to blacklist offenders’ domain names, essentially erasing these sites from the Internet, at least for U.S. Internet users. However, it’s so easy as to be laughable to circumvent this measure. A blacklisted site could still be found by accessing its numeric IP address. Lists of targeted sites and IP addresses are popping up, making an attempt to censor these sites meaningless. This section of the bills has since been dropped for being hilariously worthless (if it wasn’t so scary).

Still present in both bills is a provision attempting to cut off sources of revenue to targeted sites. Anyone who chooses to do business with these sites would be required to stop.

Is this for real?

Currently SOPA doesn’t have the support of the White House and therefore has very little chance of seeing the light of day. However, PIPA is still viable and, therefore, pretty scary.

Today, corners of the English speaking Internet are “going dark” in protest of SOPA and PIPA, a powerful statement that both underlines what it would mean to have either of these bills in full effect and demonstrates the lack of widespread support among the web’s heavy hitters.

It’s also freaking a lot of people out. Not everyone is as Internet savvy as you or me and doesn’t quite “get it.”

Ahh, the Internet.


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