Transfer Thoughts: SOPA protest: good for provoking piracy awareness

Often I’d start an article like this with a snarky comment stating that you’d have to be a complete Neanderthal to not understand the Internet, but I’m not going to do that because I don’t believe that there are people who actually don’t understand how to use a computer at this point in time. If my mother can figure out how to make Internet Explorer work and use Netflix to get her fix of silly British melodramas, then there is no reason why any of what I have to say should rest outside the realm of anyone’s knowledge.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about some things that have been rattling around the Internet for quite a while. Recently, Congress shelved the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) after numerous attempts at making the bill seem like anything other than inane gibberish by old, blubbering men who fail to understand how the Internet works. Also, the Internet itself came together to protest — an act that is surprising, considering it is a place most known for its apathy and overall perversion.

SOPA would have granted copyright owners the right to basically shut down, with court involvement, any site that “facilitated copyright infringement.” Considering that “copyright infringement” is such a vague term and could mean anything from a movie to a video of my dog dancing to Rihanna’s “We Found Love,” various sites, including Wikipedia, followed up by shutting down during a twenty-four hour “blackout,” and Google protested with a petition.

In time, it was announced that SOPA was put off indefinitely and all was fine in the realm of the web: Pirates win and Congressmen lose. Yet, one has to wonder if the blackout really had that much of an effect. People have been rallying against the bill for quite a some time, and while I have no doubts that the blackout was done for a good cause, I wonder whether it proved to be more irritating than helpful.

Wikipedia has always been the go-to source for lazy college students, and I imagine many groaned in mild annoyance at not being able to look up random things on the site. To Wikipedia’s credit, it did provide access through its mobile page, but it seemed like a rather pointless stunt, especially since the Internet was still fairly functional. Of course, an actual Internet blackout would have been rather stupid, and may have had near-apocalyptic consequences.

Wikipedia’s blackout was meant to educate the masses on what potentially could have happened if SOPA were to become law, but it’s hard to take the lesson seriously when Google merely slapped a black bar across its logo and called it a day. More alarming were the number of smaller sites that were forced to post apologies and explanations about why they didn’t participate in the blackout, possibly in an attempt to stave off the rage of millions of users who might post angry, accusatory comments.

I’m not suggesting that the blackout was completely useless — awareness can be enough to get people motivated — nor are my comments meant to imply that piracy should be accepted. Piracy is a problem, and I’d be a liar if I said I never helped myself to some “digital booty.” However, instead of focusing on suing everyone that dares to steal a movie or attempting to censor the Internet, perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at the business models used by the entertainment industry and bring them up to today’s standards.

Despite my own critiques of the blackout, it really was a wonderful thing to see a group of anonymous individuals come together to fight something that posed a threat to a level of freedom that we often take for granted. The fight’s far from over, as it seems that the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is geared up to take the place of its fallen brethren, but it’s good to see that so many are willing to band together and do everything in their power to protest in the interest of something they believe in.

-Christopher Exantus

Junior transfer English Major

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