Thursday, January 12, 2012

SOPA and The Great Internet Blackouts

When it was brought to the attention of the Reddit community in mid-November, SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, drew immense criticism from all sectors of the internet, which might be the understatement of the year. A mass online movement to protest the bill was born, and legions of people contacted their Senators and Representatives to urge them to vote down the bill. SOPA will be discussed before Congress when it returns from its Winter Recess come the end of January.35c7kt

In essence, the bill attempts to address the problem of media piracy by giving corporations more power to seek legal action against web sites they accuse of copyright infringement. Such legal actions might include blacklisting sites that link to shared copyrighted content, starving sites off the necessary advertising money they need to survive, imprisoning content-sharers for up to five years, barring search engines from displaying certain links and erecting a DNS firewall around the United States preventing access to copyrighted content in servers located in other countries.

Reflecting the “smart-mob” nature of the web, internet users revolted against the multitude of corporations that supported the bill. Domain name company GoDaddy, which voiced its support of the bill in December, faced a mass exodus of users as people boycotted the service. The company lost 37,000 users as a result of the boycott and saw its web ranking plunge when megasites Reddit and Wikipedia migrated off their namespaces.

On December 13th, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales proposed a Wikipedia “blackout” in protest of the bill, temporarily taking the site offline to send a penetrating message to legislators and the internet community. He addressed editors, “Do not underestimate our power - in my opinion, they are terrified of a public uprising about this, and we are uniquely positioned to start that”. As of January, Google, Facebook, Reddit and Twitter have put consideration into joining Wikipedia in its symbolic strike. Reddit confirmed a blackout on January 18th and other sites have started discussion in coordinating blackouts.

SOPA puts the United States in peril as President Obama will likely alienate the media industry if he signs the bill into law, and conversely, alienate tech and internet startups. The mainstream media has skirted the issue notably while the tech industry has loudly and radically protested the measure. Time will tell whether this controversial measure will be the boon to innovation its creators espouse it to be.

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