On 18th Jan 2012, millions of Americans faced a SOPA blackout to promote awareness about the PIPA piracy bills in the U.S.
The idea behind this new legislation is to reduce the amount of trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods on the internet. The problem with the bills though is that they are poorly worded and will do little to reduce pirated material. The bills will instead give law enforcement the power to remove an entire website for a single, copyright infringing blog post.
It has been suggested that this legislation would then have the knock on effect of constricting our ability to share information, give governments the ability to shut down whistle-blowing websites like WikiLeaks and damage the freedom of speech we rightly enjoy on the internet today.
The good news is that, despite the disruption, the blackouts seem to have been a resounding success and people all over America have gone to great lengths to contact their local representatives and preserve the internet. So what’s changed since Wednesday?
PIPA Supporters Withdraw their Backing
Perhaps the most astonishing effect is that staunch supporters like Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Ben Quayle have withdrawn their support after being bombarded by “legitimate concerns” from Americans and people around the world. Sen. Marco Rubio said on his Facebook page: “As a senator from Florida, a state with a large presence of artists, creators and businesses connected to the creation of intellectual property, I have a strong interest in stopping online piracy… However, we must do this while simultaneously promoting an open, dynamic Internet environment … Congress should listen and avoid rushing through a bill that could have many unintended consequences.
Congress’s Switchboards Crashed
Just one of those unintended consequences was the barrage of emails that ultimately crashed the U.S. governmental servers. Many of the websites that blacked out their services replaced their home page with a holding page that provided internet users with information on how to contact their local representatives. The resulting bombardment was enough to crash their servers.
Sites That Got It Right
Those holding pages have now become synonymous with the blackout. Just take the images from Google and Wikipedia above and below. In all probability when you woke up on Wednesday morning it was one of those pages that brought the SOPA/PIPA to your attention, or at least inspired you to act.
Now that the blackout is over, Wikipedia announced results that their holding page was viewed 162 million times with 8 million people following through on their instructions to contact local representatives – it’s no wonder their servers crashed.
Google also blacked out their U.S. services and collected over 4.7 million e-signatures in the space of 24 hours sending a clear message to politicians debating the bill.
B-I’ll be Back
But whilst all of this sounds productive, there is no doubt that the bills will return. There has already been talk of reviving SOPA and PIPA as soon as February, even despite the massive backlash and it just goes to show the enormous amount of influence the people in Hollywood have over the Democrats.
How This Affects the UK
If the SOPA legislation is passed and your website is found to have copyright infringing material on it, then without warning you could find your site blacked from U.S. sites like Google, PayPal, Google Checkout and more.
Competing websites will also go to great lengths just to lodge complaints against rival websites and have them removed without warning. It may also be extremely damaging to start-up sites which rely on sharing information as it would simply be too risky for an investor.
So whilst it looks like the internet has temporarily protected itself, even without the influence of the media, it looks like the SOPA and PIPA bills will only hide away for a short time before rearing their ugly heads once more.
One ironic thing I feel compelled to mention before I finish the article regards the SOPA author Lamar Smith and his website. If you were to visit his site just one month ago you would have found an un-sourced, copyright infringing photograph ‘stolen’ from photographer DJ Schulte. If Smith’s bill had gone ahead, Schulte would have been well within his rights to have Smith’s website shut down and he knows it too.
What an uncomfortable moment it must have been when Lamar realised he had broken the very law he was trying to get passed. Awkward.