Fortunately, some people really, really care
// Colin Spensley

The words SOPA and PIPA seemed to pop up everywhere we turned on the Internet this January. These two bills were pushed to the House and Senate of the United States by entertainment industry lobbyists, and critics say that they’re dangerous because legislation like these bills can result in an Internet that is no longer free or unchecked. On May 12, 2011, Senator Patrick Leahy introduced one of the United States most terrifying Internet censorship bills since the creation of the world’s largest communication tool. The Protecting Internet Property Act (PIPA) sent a shockwave across blogs and forums throughout the Internet. Its counterpart, Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) quickly followed PIPA months later as a more encompassing attack on freedom of speech and media on the Internet. Under the guise of protecting the intellectual property of artists and companies, the U.S. Senate placed the intellectual liberty of the entire world and the very structure of the Internet on the line in order to protect the interests of the entertainment industry. These bills had people frightened; however, luckily when people fear losing something, they take action quickly.
On the surface, both of these anti-piracy acts seem rather harmless. It is generally accepted that piracy is essentially stealing, and since stealing is wrong, so is piracy. With PIPA and SOPA, however, the United States Federal Government wants to take things a bit further than that. In brief, these acts seek to end the spread of copyrighted material by all websites, people, and your Internet service providers. However, the content of the bills is written in such a way that it takes a law degree to make any sense of it. SOPA and PIPA are both convoluted and impossibly difficult-to-read bills, and thus they take a keen and knowledgeable eye to dissect. Chris Heald, writer for the on-line tech blog Mashable.com, began his in-depth analysis of the SOPA and PIPA bills by saying, “If ever a bill was spaghetti, this is it. If a programmer on my team wrote code as convoluted as this bill, I would fire him on the spot.” The SOPA and PIPA bills, when deconstructed, would hold accountable any website which allows users to post content liable for the copyright infringement, which would in turn cause massive censorship, as no website would allow its self to become liable for lawsuit regardless of if the website is American or not.
“An `Internet site is dedicated to theft of U.S. property’ if [a portion of the site is US-directed] and is used by users within the United States and is primarily designed or operated for the purpose of offering services in a manner that enables or facilitates [copyright violation or circumvention of copyright protection measures].”
This heavily contested slice of the SOPA pie is taken from Section 103 of the SOPA bill entitled “Market-Based System to Protect U.S. Customers and Prevent U.S. Funding of Sites Dedicated to Theft of U.S. Property.” Section 103 (a) and 103 (b) are the main parts of SOPA that have come under fire from the online community. Put simply, this section is stating that websites whose main purpose may not be the service of pirated content are still liable for what users post or share through their websites. Consider your Facebook wall for a minute. It is likely that friends have posted YouTube videos containing music or images which neither you, your friends, or Facebook own the rights to. Under SOPA or PIPA, both you and Facebook would be held accountable for these copyright infringements. This would then make Facebook liable for your wall, which would likely cause mass censorship or account deletion. These bills also give power to the corporations holding the copyrights to sue the infringing person or website, essentially taking all the power to police the Internet from the government and handing it over to entertainment companies. Websites which once started out as small-run companies like Google, Wikipedia, and YouTube would never have been able to take off under the harsh restrictions of SOPA. Considering that these websites have now become cornerstones in our modern-day Internet, it's easy to see why this has the online community enraged.
This one small section of SOPA is enough to have most people wary of the bill, and it wasn’t long after it became known that the Internet erupted in hysteria of protest and campaigning. On Jan. 17, some of the Internet’s biggest and most frequently visited websites held an Internet blackout. Sites including Wikipedia and Reddit both went offline, replacing their homepage with links to SOPA information and petitions to stop the bills. Other sites, including Google, Twitter, and Facebook all publicly denounced SOPA and PIPA, as well as the Senators backing the legislation. Montreal’s Vice Magazine went as far as to call Senator Patrick Leahy a hypocrite and dissect his Twitter account, pointing out the large amount of copyright infringement he had on his page, including images and video links.
Following Jan. 17, the general feeling spanning the Internet was that of optimism. United States Representative Jason Altmire claimed that “the Capitol received eight million electronic messages about SOPA and PIPA on Wednesday.” Even before both bills were shelved for further review on Friday, most Internet and law analysts claimed the bills would not pass. Although both of these bills were dropped by their representatives on Jan. 20, the House and Senate claim that the fight with Internet piracy is not over. The Motion Picture Association of America, the main backers to the SOPA and PIPA bills, will likely continue to lobby the Senate to tighten piracy laws in the United States; however, some of the country’s most powerful businesses seem to be fighting for the right to public privacy on the Internet. Google, for example, spent $9.68 million in 2010 lobbying Washington on issues like antitrust, piracy, and customer privacy.
This situation was unique because it saw mass amounts of people take action on an important issue – something that is rare. “I think battle over Internet regulation is going to continue to play out,” says Michael Geist, the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law. “It is hard to be optimistic about the issue as the lobby campaigns are intense and Internet users can't be expected to continually engage in political advocacy.” This is becoming all too real in Canada with the introduction of Bill C-11. Alternatively titled the “Copyright Modernization Act”, it stands to be reviewed by the House on Mar. 1. “Once it passes, I expect another bill focused on intellectual property enforcement. After that, we will see even more lobbying and attempts to force Canada into following the U.S. model,” says Geist. It is unclear if Canada’s online community will have the same strength and gusto as the people who stopped SOPA in its tracks. Luckily for America, the right people and organizations got behind the right cause at the right time. Even with mass support, more often than not the public is ignored by the “for the good of the people” mentality of current governments. But the people have spoken, and they won this round. It’s obvious the people love their Internet just as it is: unedited, free, and full of easily-obtainable, license free media content.

//Colin Spensley, writer
//Graphics by Tiare Jung

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com