Anti-piracy laws cause public outcry

In Community/World News by Editor

Article by Dan Myers

How would you feel if the government were given more power to shut down sites that commit online piracy? How would you feel if the government had the power to shut down YouTube as it is now? According to a large multitude of angry internet users, this is exactly the sort of thing that the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) would give the government the power to do if it were passed. As of now, the bill is shelved, but chances are it will be back for another round in a different form.

The Stop Online Piracy Act is a bill that was announced on Oct. 26, 2011, by members of the House of Representatives and backed by the Hollywood lobbyists to try and revive an internet “death penalty,” according to an article in CNET News. The bill itself is 79 pages long and aims to give the government the power to block or shutdown whole websites that have any copyright infringements. With so much copyrighted creative work being downloaded without a single cent of it going to their creators, the government has been exploring a way to intervene and help these musicians, actors, movie producers, etc. get proper credit and pay for their work. What ensued over the coming months, however, was a historically negative internet reaction.

Word spread quickly of this bill and what it possibly could mean. In very little time, just about anyone who regularly visits YouTube, Reddit, Wikipedia, or any other popular community driven site, probably stumbled upon information about SOPA because of what users were speculating about it. Many claimed that it would be the end of a “free and open internet,” with the government reaching in and deleting their favorite websites, online video series, or even Facebook status updates if they were deemed a copyright violation, according to much of the online opposition. The entire furor eventually caused an internet blackout where many websites like Google, Reddit, and Wikipedia shutdown on Jan. 18, 2012, in protest of the bill and its supporters.

Csmonitor.com noted even after many politicians removed their support after hearing the outcry all across the internet, Chris Dodd, the chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), was still backing SOPA all the way. Claiming to represent the interests of all the studios included in the MPAA, Dodd called the internet blackouts a “gimmick” and “an irresponsible disservice.” Along with the MPAA, other SOPA supporters include Pfizer, Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), National Governors Association, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, according to csmonitor.com. There were a number of other supporters, but many dropped their proponent status after all the opposition online.

The Campus Director of Technical Support, Gregory Seitz, said in an e-mail, “I agree something needs to be done about online piracy.  However, it is my understanding that SOPA would give law enforcement the opportunity to shut down legitimate sites if they linked in any way to a pirating web page.” He described this as “analogous to shutting down a department store because of a few shoplifters.” Widespread awareness of this bill showed even among students in the Lancaster area. While most of the students that were asked still didn’t know what SOPA was, a surprising portion did and had something to say about it. Tyler Haberstroh said, “SOPA would give the government the right to look at Facebook status updates and take them down if you don’t own something in them, like song lyrics.”

While SOPA didn’t pass, an international trade agreement, known as “SOPA’s evil twin” by many, including www.stopacta.info, has just been passed in the European Union in January. Obama has already shown support for the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) and many other countries are quickly showing their support. According to CNN.com, “like many trade agreements, ACTA is a confusing mess,” and “Even its signatories don’t agree on how it’s supposed to work. The way it’s been pushed forward has also been unruly — talks have been held in secret, without any kind of legislative oversight or input from citizens or public-interest groups.” While Obama signed the agreement (the legality of how he signed it is debatable), ACTA won’t be officially ratified until the European Parliament votes on it in June, according to www.stopacta.info.