Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Stopping SOPA & PIPA

I hope this post isn't too much of a downer. It's actually pretty serious. Usually, I'm not too involved with politics/current events and stuff that just seems to make everyone mad, but this time it's a little personal. For those of you who don't really keep up with the news either, here's a bit of background.

A few months ago, Congress created two bills (one in the House, one in the Senate) attempting to end online piracy. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) are both slightly different, but the main points are the same. Basically, most pirated material is posted on foreign owned and operated websites. It's extremely difficult for the government to go after these parent sites. If you're as into watching tv online as I was, you've probably noticed that some of the sites you go to have shut down over the years and/or changed URLs after being blocked. Basically, up until now that's all the government could do - shut one site down, wait for them to move to a new place, shut that down, etc. That sounds really obnoxious.

In an attempt to get around this, the bills are proposing that American-owned sites and search engines censor these pirate sites - or else. They want search engines like Google and Yahoo! to remove pirate sites from their search results and pretend like they don't exist. That... sounds shady. But it gets worse. They're also proposing that internet service providers (Time Warner, AT&T, etc.) BLOCK user access to sites with pirated content. Like putting a kiddie-filter, only there's no way to get around it. That's what they do in China. We've been commenting for years about how sad it was that the Chinese people have such limited access to internet content, and now we're going to do it to! Yes, it's a way to get people to stop going to these sites. But... if they can censor those sites out, what will stop the government from saying other sites shouldn't be shown? Sure, that's a bit of a stretch. But I read 1984. I know how this shit goes down.

Next on the bill are sites with user-generated content: blogs (like Blogspot), Facebook, YouTube, Google+, and all those sites with pictures of cats doing cute things. According to SOPA/PIPA, these sites are liable for everything users post or link to. Congress wants these parent sites to go through all of the user content and remove anything that can be linked to illegal content. Essentially, if you go to Facebook and post a link to a YouTube clip from your favorite movie: 1. Facebook must remove your post 2. YouTube must remove that video clip. YouTube has actually been removing copyrighted material for years, at the request of the music and movie companies. Understandable. But Facebook would have to remove your post about it? Not cool.

Finally, it's not just the government calling the shots here. Major corporations, like the ones who back the music and movie industries, have a huge say in what "illegal" content is. From what I have read (which may or may not be completely true, everyone has a bias) these companies can pinpoint content they believe is covered under their copyright and ask sites to remove it. Any sites that don't comply with these requests can be shut down. Shut. Down. One day, you could log onto Facebook and discover that it has disappeared.

I'm not sure if you've heard about the "Free Bieber" protest a while back, but this can be lumped in with SOPA/PIPA. Bill S.978 wants to make it illegal to post videos/audio recordings of people singing copyrighted material. Translation: if you post something on YouTube of you singing your favorite Backstreet Boys song, you are breaking the law, your content must be removed, and you could face a fine and/or up to five years in prison. I don't know if these guys have been to YouTube in the past decade, but that's the majority of what's out there! That's how many current music artists (like Justin Bieber and that cute little Asian girl who sings Gaga songs) have become famous!

I realize that if the government shut down something like Google or Facebook, the public outcry would be so tremendous that they'd have to bring it back. But smaller sites could disappear into the night without the majority of Americans noticing.

Today, many sites, including Wikipedia, Google, BoingBoing, Reddit, Twitter, and eBay, have posted explanations of SOPA and links to online petitions. A few of them have pledged to "go dark" for 12+ hours in order to draw more attention to the problem. Personally, I don't have an issue with online piracy, but I'm also not the one being ripped off. I agree that yes, it is illegal. Yes, it should be stopped. But I don't think this is the way to go about it. Agree or disagree, that's cool, but read up about it! If these sites hadn't done something, a LOT of people would have no idea what Congress is attempting to do.

Here's a little more reading, if you're interested:
Not necessarily the best or most unbiased, but both do state many facts.

Stay informed! Contact your Representative! Sign some petitions!

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