Need to look up a fact on Wikipedia? Want to burn a bit of the
workday browsing reddit's library of links, memes and discussions?
Feel like taking a look at how Google (
) customized its logo this week?
For the duration of Wednesday, January 18, web users around the
country will be unable to do any of those things.
To protest the House of Representative's
Stop Online Piracy Act
, dubbed SOPA, numerous sites are temporarily shutting off,
removing functionality or altering their appearance to symbolize
the impact they believe the legislation will have on the free, open
internet. Supporters of the bill - which is sponsored by
Republican Lamar Smith and backed by the MPAA and the RIAA -
contend that it is a necessary measure to protect the intellectual
property of American copyright holders from musicians to filmmakers
to software developers.
The opponents, who comprise a nearly comprehensive list of major
tech companies and websites, contend that it's a massive overreach
which threatens the fabric of the internet. The various protests
aim to show the American public what a future with SOPA might look
like. The main problem with the bill, they say, is that it gives
the unprecedented power to the copyright holders to shut down sites
they claim violate their rights.
In December, I
one of the earliest demonstrations of the influence the
anti-SOPA lobby can wield, after a reddit-inspired consumer
boycott of GoDaddy forced that company to reverse course. This
protest is far larger in scope, and the impact could hit much
harder. People who have no
legislation or the geekier corners of the internet will notice that
the Google logo is obscured by a black censorship bar or that they
can't update their blogs because Wordpress is locked down. High
school students around the country will panic as they realize
they'll have to turn in papers tomorrow without the helping hand of
Obviously, SOPA's supporters fired back at the web with both
barrels, as the likes of former Senator Chris Dodd and the U.S.
Chamber of Commerce
the protest an "abuse of power" and "a gimmick." Dodd is now the
chairman of the MPAA.
Google, for its part, posted on its official
that "PIPA & SOPA will not stop piracy ... Pirate sites
would just change their addresses in
to continue their criminal activities. There are better ways to
address piracy than to ask
to censor the Internet." As an alternative, Google supports the
OPEN Act, a different copyright protection bill which doesn't
introduce new powers or pose the same threat to internet service
providers or search engines.
One of the biggest problems faced by SOPA's supporters is the enemy
they face. They want to take on one of the most adaptable
demographics on the planet with the lumbering speed of the U.S.
legislative process. Pirate sites now upload full-quality,
high-definition copies of films just moments after the theatrical
release - sometimes even before - and trying to shut down torrent
sites is like playing the world's biggest game of digital
Whack-a-Mole. Despite increasingly invasive and rigorous efforts by
software and media companies to lock down DVDs and video games with
copyright protection, even the most dedicated solutions are cracked
a few hours to a few weeks later, leaving the pirates free to use
the content unhindered while increasing the hassle for legitimate
buyers. Congress simply can't draft legislation fast enough to keep
up with the international community of pirates.
The whole debate might be more or less moot, at least until the
dust settles from the 2012 elections. President Barack Obama swept
to victory in 2008 on a wave of support from a young, energized and
web-savvy generation. Google and other web companies are among his
biggest campaign contributors (though Hollywood and the media lobby
also contributed a great deal). Last week, the White House issued a
which read, in part, "New legislation must be narrowly targeted
only at sites beyond the reach of current U.S. law, cover activity
clearly prohibited under existing U.S. laws, and be effectively
tailored, with strong due process and focused on criminal
Though it's not a promise to veto SOPA or its sister bill, the
Protect IP act, it's pretty close.