Today, many of the Internet’s most popular websites (including one of my own) have blacked out their sites in one way or another in order to protest against SOPA and PIPA. But many people, as I discovered this morning, have absolutely no idea what SOPA and PIPA are.
What Are SOPA and PIPA?
SOPA and PIPA represent two bills in the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate respectively. SOPA is short for the “Stop Online Piracy Act,” and PIPA is an acronym for the “Protect IP Act.” (“IP” stands for “intellectual property.”) In short, these bills are efforts to stop copyright infringement committed by foreign web sites, but, in our opinion, they do so in a way that actually infringes free expression while harming the Internet. Detailed information about these bills can be found in the Stop Online Piracy Act and PROTECT IP Act articles on Wikipedia, which are available during the blackout. GovTrack lets you follow both bills through the legislative process: SOPA on this page, and PIPA on this one. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to advocating for the public interest in the digital realm, has summarized why these bills are simply unacceptable in a world that values an open, secure, and free Internet.
What’s Wrong with Combating Piracy?
Nothing. It’s simply the way these bills attempt to do so that we find abhorrent.
Under the current wording, the US Attorney General would be granted the power to order Internet Service Providers to block access to sites suspected of trafficking in pirated and counterfeit goods; order search engines to delist the sites from their indexes; ban advertising on suspected sites; and block payment services from processing transactions for accused sites. That’s a lot of action without due process.
SOPA and PIPA’s proponents say that enforcement will be done responsibly, but trust in the system is not a substitute for legislative safeguards.
Due to the outcry from the IT community, some changes to the House bill have been made which remove some of the technically ignorant portions, but these changes do not redeem it.
SOPA and PIPA put the burden on website owners to police user-contributed material and call for the unnecessary blocking of entire sites. If your site has any links to an infringing site, you could be forced offline. This blog, for example, gets spam comments including links to all sorts of sites. Without the protection I currently have enabled, these comments could place my blog (which has nothing to do with piracy) in jeopardy of being blacklisted.
For more information, please read this article from the EFF.
EDIT: I just found this post on Slashdot, which does a nice job of explaining things, too.