By Matthew Le Blanc
In an act of defiance, major websites across the Internet have drawn a line in the digital dirt to give the world a taste of what it might be like if the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) were passed by U.S Congress. Wikipedia, Firefox, WordPress and even Google are among those that have blacked out their websites in protest or have changed their homepage to display their stance on the issue.
Amidst all the negative publicity the bills have received since coming into being late last year, some people feel the bills should be used to teach the world a lesson.
“I kind of hope it passes,” says Jesse Shirmer, a software programmer and website designer. “Sometimes we need to pass terrible laws and rules just to find out how bad they are. They can act as a well-established warning to future generations. This would not only show the danger of regulating information, but it could pretty much force programmers and hackers to join up and release new protocols and standards, effectively creating ‘Internet 2’.”
Shirmer compares the bills to Prohibition, saying that “putting things on lockdown only worsens the problem.”
“More people consumed alcohol during the Prohibition than they did otherwise. If things are ‘out of control’ now, what’s going to happen when something like peer-to-peer sharing or torrents are banned? It’s going to go underground and still exist.”
On the flip side, Congress has yet to give up – calling the blackouts nothing more than a publicity stunt. In a statement made last Tuesday, SOPA sponsor and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith slammed Wikipedia for wanting to blackout their site for 24 hours.
“It is ironic that a website dedicated to providing information is spreading misinformation about the Stop Online Piracy Act. The bill will not harm Wikipedia, domestic blogs or social networking sites. This publicity stunt does a disservice to its users by promoting fear instead of facts. Perhaps during the blackout, Internet users can look elsewhere for an accurate definition of online piracy.”
Rep. Smith says the “bill will not censor the Internet. But it will protect American workers, inventors and job creators from foreign thieves who steal our products, technology and intellectual property.”
Social networking giant Facebook didn’t directly participate in the protest, but instead made its position known through its Washington DC office page.
“PROTECT IP and SOPA could create very real problems for Internet companies like ours that are a primary driver of innovation, growth, and job creation in the 21st century economy. The bills contain overly broad definitions and create a new private cause of action against companies on the basis of those expansive definitions, which could seriously hamper the innovation, growth, and investment in new companies that have been the hallmarks of the Internet. In addition, we are concerned about provisions in the bills that could chill free expression or weaken the Internet’s architecture.”
If the bills were passed, the U.S government would be given the power to shut down any websites that were suspected of trafficking copyrighted material and counterfeited goods without needing to appear in court. Opponents of the bills are concerned this would jeopardize the democratic nature and overall infrastructure of the Internet. Sites that fall under the offending category, such as YouTube and Twitter, could be removed, or at least blocked, from the web leaving millions of Internet users without a place to share their content or keep in touch with the world.