SOPA and PIPA VS. the Internet

Kiana Schmitt, Staff Writer

A single glance at Google’s homepage, an attempt to peruse information on Wikipedia, or a simple log-in to Facebook on January 18, 2012 all resulted in an outpouring of information on the same two subjects: SOPA and PIPA.  No, not the traditional Mexican soup rumored to taste great paired with beans and a warm tortilla, and no, not the female counterpart of the self-discovering Broadway prince.  SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, and PIPA, the Protect IP Act, are two radical new bills about which everyone seems to have something to say.

In the simplest terms, “both bills are aimed at foreign websites that infringe copyrighted material. The bills are commonly associated with media piracy, but may also apply to counterfeit consumer goods and medication” (pcworld.com).  Though this rigid attempt to abolish the illegal sharing and distribution of music files, movies, faux designer products, and drugs through foreign criminals, can be universally agreed is a noble cause, it seems as if the whole internet is in opposition to SOPA and PIPA.

The main source of this intense disdain comes from the ambiguity of the language of the bills (quite similar to the vagueness of NDAA).  Outrage is fueled by the belief by many that the can government so choose to interpret the bills in a way in which it is essentially censoring the Internet.  Reddit.com gives a simple example of how the government can use the loose wording of SOPA to its advantage: “‘Facilitation’ can often be argued as simply teaching or demonstrating how to do something. Under this definition, a site could be targeted for something as simple as describing how to rip a Blu-Ray. This language also makes it clear that the legislation is not solely targeting sites ‘dedicated to theft.’”  In addition, the government can order a website to remove and/or censor all links to a certain domain, even if the links were posted by forum users and even if the links themselves do not contain infringement content.

Clearly, the bills have been generating much controversy, dispute, and protest ever since their conceptions in May 2011 (PIPA) and October 2011 (SOPA).  The most notable, influential protest occurred on January 18th, in which numerous well-known websites, including Google, Wikipedia, Craigslist, Wired, Reddit, and Boing Boing participated in a 24-hr “blackout.”   During this time period, any attempt at access to the sites was met with a page encouraging people to sign internet petitions against SOPA and PIPA, listing phone numbers of local senators, or simply providing more information to educate the public.  The “blackout” proved to be successful; millions of people utilized social networking sites to share articles and links to petitions, and it was confirmed that at the end of the day, over 4.5 billion people had signed Google’s online petition.

Currently, SOPA has been delayed on account of President Obama’s statement that he would not support a bill which threatened freedom of speech and internet security. Yet those in opposition should not be celebrating just yet; the bill has already been scheduled for review and debate in February.  Furthermore, the Senate plans to vote on PIPA on January 24th.