The anti-piracy bills SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) introduced last year in congress triggered controversy among millions of Internet users and tech companies across the nation. The bills were designed to stop copyright violations online.
Websites with unauthorized streaming of copyright material would be shut down and website developers would be prosecuted. If convicted, they could face 30 years in prison.
The bills provoked many reactions among individuals across the country.
Andrew Garrett, senior at USF stated, ” I am strongly against these bills because of the loose definition of “illegal act.” According to SOPA/PIPA, any website that allows user uploaded material such as Facebook, Wikipedia, Google or Youtube can be taken down.”
One of the concerns regarding SOPA and PIPA is that it will increase the power of the government and corporations over online content.
“If the bill was passed, large corporations could use the government as their own hit man against websites,” said Garrett.
Some USF students have also compared the bills to Internet censorship in China where the government monitors and restricts media content.
USF Junior Ally Smart said, ” Imagine if we were only to receive one side of a story. Now imagine that you attempted to portray the other side of the story and you were thrown in jail. Where would our society be?”
When asked if she thought the proposed bills violate the rights to Freedom of Speech, Smart said, “ Absolutely. These bills wouldn’t shut down piracy websites, but they would instead cause serious issues for legitimate sites who would suffer the unintended damages.”
Media Studies Professor Dorothy Kidd agrees. Although she believes Internet intellectual property and the rights of writers, artists, musicians and performers are very important, she feels the bills are not designed to protect creators or citizen users of the Internet.
“It’s a law for the giant corporate holders of copyright not the professional or amateur creators, who by and large are not fully compensated for creation of content nor the majority of citizens who use the Internet,” Kidd said.
Kidd believes it is necessary to have a comprehensive discussion about the Internet. Citizens, software developers, small businesses, government and large corporations from around the world should be consulted.
“ There are many other important controversies including guaranteeing all citizens the right to communicate on the Internet, and protecting against surveillance and exploitation of content by corporations, criminals and governments…” Kidd added, “However, regulating the Internet only in the interests of the old media giants is not the way to go about improving our global means of communications.”
A new bill was proposed as an alternative to SOPA/PIPA called OPEN (Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act), which was presented by California Representative Darrell Issa and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden. Both senators are in opposition to the SOPA/PIPA bills.
Instead of giving online oversight power to the United States government, OPEN suggests the International Trade Commission (ITC), an agency responsible for fighting online piracy, be put at the helm. OPEN would also notify websites that they are violating copyright infringement instead of automatically shutting it down.
Many individuals feel this is more politically fair when it comes to dealing with piracy issues.
Lamar Smith, theTexas Congressman who proposed SOPA, announced his plan to remove the internet service provider (ISP) provision in SOPA in the beginning of January.
The ISP provision in SOPA allows the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to seek court orders requiring service providers to block subscriber access to foreign sites accused by the DOJ of copyright infringement.
Not long after, Smith also decided to remove the Domain Name System(DNS) requirements from the bill. Without the DNS provision, business companies and entertainment industries will no longer be able to obtain court orders to block site access from within the United States.
Despite the ISP and DNS provisions being removed from the bill, companies and citizens continue to protest the bill.
On January 18 websites like Wikipedia and Google went dark for 24 hours in opposition to SOPA/PIPA.
Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation said, ” The Wikipedia blackout is over. Our goal was to raise awareness about SOPA and PIPA and to encourage readers to make their voices heard– and we’ve been successful on both counts.” About 200 protesters also gathered in San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza the day of the blackout.
Before the protests, SOPA/PIPA had 80 Congress supporters and 31 opponents.
After the black out, the number of supporters dropped to 65 and the number of opponents had a significant rise by 70.
Millions of people made their voices heard on social media. Many newspapers and journalists wrote news stories featuring the Wikipedia blackout screen.
Although many companies and individuals see this as a victory, Hugo Lopez, politics major and senior at USF, said he had several concerns.
Lopez said, “One of the strangest things to me, besides this draconian law, is the fact that the general public knew nothing about this until Tumblr, Google, and Facebook brought it into their sites. We really need to be more vigilant about things like this and it scares me that only a few days before the vote did the general public care.”
Just a day after the Wikipedia and Google black out, the U.S. Justice Department and FBI shutdown Megaupload, a website that allowed users to anonymously upload and download copyright material.
Kim Schmitz, owner of Megaupload, was sentenced to 50 years in prison for helping share digital archives. Ally Smart found this shocking after hearing that Miguel Carano, a man who murdered, raped, and disposed of the body of his victim Marta Del Castillo, was sentenced to only 20 years of prison.
“I mean, granted, Schmitz helped divert millions (possibly billions) of profit away from already grotesquely rich companies. But did he personally embezzle the money? No. Carano murdered someone and got 40% of time,” Smart said.
Just two days after the black out, Congressman Smith stated that he is pulling SOPA from consideration until there is a wider agreement on the solution.
This is a huge success for SOPA’s opponents, but the bills are not dead. Both SOPA/PIPA are going to be revised and are scheduled to be voted on in the near future.