Amazingly, a lot of people I know haven't even heard of SOPA or PIPA. Now, every English-reading person with an internet connection will finally have those two four-letter acronyms emblazoned in their minds. For the entire day today, Wikipedia's English-language site will be in total blackout in protest against the proposed legislation in the United States. And that's not all. MoveOn, Reddit, BoingBoing, Mozilla, WordPress, TwitPic and other popular websites are down today in protest.
Both the Stop Online Piracy Act and PROTECT IP Act are backed by six Hollywood film studios and four major record companies. The bill's stated goal is to put an end to online piracy, but given their approach, they would effectively give the U.S. government a kill switch for any site on the internet. What's more, the decision to throw that switch would be given to a court at the request of a private company, without the website in question being given a chance to state their case. It's true that piracy is a problem, but this is not the way to solve it.
If these bills get the green light, private companies or individuals could ask a judge to cut off access in the states to any sites they accuse of piracy. Online advertisers, credit card companies, and ISPs could also be forced to cut off ties with any accused pirates. The bills also give immunity to ISPs who voluntarily take action against any accused sites.
I imagine Comcast would have an itchy trigger finger.
Both bills are ambiguously written, opening the possibility for companies to exploit them to take down any websites where people share content with each other. Currently, if a person shares copyrighted material on a website, that website is protected by the DMCA, so long as they take down any infringing material promptly after being notified of an infringement. It is impossible for a website that allows users to post content such as images, videos, or audio files to verify whether or not that content is copyrighted by someone else so this protection has opened the door to every single website you use that allows you to post something to it without delay. SOPA and PIPA would skip this safe harbor, rendering practically every social site vulnerable to attack and without any chance to defend themselves in court.
If these bills pass, one infringement would be enough for a copyright holder to file to take down an entire website. YouTube could disappear overnight. Same with Vimeo, Flickr, Twitter, or even WonderHowTo. Enacting such a draconian law would stifle innovation from new web startups. It would be too risky to create a website where people could submit their own whatever. Even the White House has spoken out about its concerns, emphasizing that they "will not support" any bill "that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet."
Still don't get what the antipiracy bills could accomplish? Check out this recent article from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) outlining the problems. Or watch the video below.
SOPA has been delayed for now, but it's definitely not out of the pipeline. And PIPA is still alive, with a Senate vote scheduled for next Tuesday, January 24th. So, how can you join the fight against these internet-killing bills?
Over 12,000 websites are showing their hatred for these antipiracy bills today. Not all are going dark. But like mentioned before, Wikipedia, Reddit, BoingBoing, and others will be going completely black today. Google is even supporting it by blacking out their logo with a link that sends you to this page where you can sign the petition.
You can see a full list at the SOPA STRIKE website.
But having a bunch of websites go dark for a day isn't the only way to grab the attention of Congress. Every U.S. Citizen who uses the internet should participate in today's events. And that means emailing and/or calling your Representatives! The best chance of stopping SOPA and PIPA is while the Senate is in recess, before the January 24th vote.
To contact your Congressman, you can find them directly on their respective sites below.
- United States House of Representatives: There's a tool for finding your local Representative. Enter in your state and zip code, and you'll be directed to an email form for instant communication. There's also phone numbers and physical address listed.
- United States Senate: They don't have a nifty tool that sends you directly to your Senator, but you can browse lists or enter in your state to find direct lines of contact.
Other ways to find your Congressmen.
- You can also visit the Citizen's Congressional Directory to find your representative. You can browse lists or enter in your address to find direct lines of contact.
- Also, you can use the free Android app to locate your Congressmen. There is one for iOS made by a different publisher, but it doesn't look as good, and it's not free.
But what exactly do you say to them? If you need help with the right words, there are sites out there that streamline the process for you.
- SOPA STRIKE: Sign the petition!
- Google: Sign the petition!
- Fight for the Future: This is the same site that runs SOPA STRIKE, but this page will send out an email to your Congressmen for both SOPA and PIPA.
- Electronic Frontier Foundation: Just input your zip code and they'll find the right people for you to contact. The email subject and body are already filled out. All you have to do is give your name and address details to send the letters to your congressmen. It's that easy.
- Another article from the EFF gives you a script for calling your Representative on SOPA. There's also one here for calling your Senator on PIPA. When you call, make sure the staff assistant takes down your information so that they know you are a constituent.
- OpenCongress: Another site that will send out emails for you.
- Also, here's a guide on setting up meetings with your Congressional Representatives.
- Do you live outside of the United States? Then sign the petition opposing U.S. censorship of global sites.
If you have a website, click here to see how to black it out. If you don't have a website and don't feel like calling or writing your Representatives, then you can at least utilize Facebook and Twitter. Got any other suggestions for waging the war against SOPA and PIPA? Post them in the comments below.