By Benjamin Smith
If you were having issues opening Wikipedia on your computer Wednesday, Jan. 18, you were not alone. The popular layman-sourced website was participating in an Internet blackout as a part of a protest of three controversial intellectual properties bills: the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), Protect IP Act (PIPA) and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).
According to sopastrike.com, SOPA would allow the U.S. government to block ad networks from advertising on websites that publish counterfeit goods and copyrighted material. Search engines that link to such sites would also be shut down. The site also states that PIPA would provide the government with ways to prevent access to infringing sites and ACTA hopes to set up an international legal system of finding these sites.
These three acts of Congress were designed to strengthen defenses against intellectual property theft and copyright infringement, though advocates of an unregulated Internet view the bill as stifling to free expression. Simply put, the proposed legislation has content providers of the music and film industries against the giant conglomerates of Silicon Valley.
Online link-sharing entertainment site Reddit was the first to establish the blackout of its services in response to the controversy, according to the blog site’s home page. Reddit was quickly followed by Internet giants Mozilla, TwitPic and WordPress.com.
According to the official White House website, Congress has already implemented laws to protect online copyrighted material, such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), old and new legislation differ. However, in the fact that SOPA and PIPA will target the platforms sharing unauthorized content instead of the material itself.
These new articles will give the Justice Department the freedom to go after foreign websites willingly committing or abetting intellectual property theft such as ThePirateBay.org. The government would also be granted the ability to force U.S.-based companies, including online advertisers, to break relations with those sites.
Content-providing groups and business representatives like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce argue that innovation and employment are affected by growing Internet piracy. According to the Global Intellectual Property Center, which is part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, intellectual property-intensive sectors employ more than 19 million people in the U.S. and create $7.7 trillion in gross output.
“If SOPA is passed, our lives would drastically change,” said Cody McElyea, a junior computer information systems major. “Consequences would range from fewer quality search results on sites like YouTube to having to pay for content and information that has just recently been made free.”
“The bill allows [domestic] websites to self police themselves for copyright infringement,” Rider OIT employee Keith Loux said. “I believe something like this could work, but SOPA is a miguided effort. There are better ways to do it.”
The bills would greatly affect smaller sites and Internet start-ups that would not have the capital to pay for large teams of lawyers to defend them from charges of piracy.
While sites like Reddit can’t be legally obligated to constantly check their content for infringement, they may “have their pants sued off” if they don’t, according to Jayme White, staff director for the Senate Finance Subcommittee on International Trade.
Earlier this month, authors of both bills set aside the most radical wording of the proposed laws.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) introduced her own alternative legislature: the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) Act in favor of the SOPA/PIPA bills. One of the proposed changes makes the International Trade Commission, not the Justice Department, responsible for monitoring U.S. connections to pirating sites, thus placing the burden on one entity instead of the entire court system.