SOPA, PIPA and the Great Internet Blackout of 2012

SOPA “blackout” day has arrived, and whatever your view on some of the most notorious pieces of legislation to be floated in recent years, you can’t ignore the scale of what may turn out to be the largest mass protest in Internet history.

What are SOPA / PIPA?

Despite having received an unprecedented amount of media coverage for pieces of Internet-related legislation, it can still be difficult to figure out exactly what the SOPA (Congress’ Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (The Senate’s PROTECT IP Act) bills are all about, and why they could affect almost anybody who uses the web. But rather than regurgitating the main talking points, this video from Fight for the Future tells you everything you need to know.


If you’d like to learn more about the technical detail of the bills (from an admittedly anti-SOPA perspective) Reddit has a useful in-depth guide to help you out and the BBC has another video explaining the bills.

Who is sponsoring these bills?

Initially introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, who has come under fire for allegedly indulging in the type of copyright infringement that SOPA is supposed to help prosecute, the SOPA bill has enjoyed support from approximately 30 Congressional Representatives from both political parties who have signed-on as co-sponsors of the bill.

You can find a full list of SOPA sponsors, helpfully represented geographically to help you see if your representative supports the bill, at SOPA Sponsors.

What’s the deal with the blackout?

As opposition to the bills spread across the web, protest initiatives spearheaded by some of the largest, most accessed and most influential sites on the web have steadily gained momentum.

Following successful boycott action against one-time SOPA supporter and giant webhost and domain name registrar GoDaddy, a proposal to “blackout” some of the largest sites on the web was organized and put into action today, January 18th 2012.

Simulating an Internet where indispensable resources and widely used sites have been shut-down or “blacked-out” for perceived copyright violations, at midnight the lights went out (or protest notices went up) on sites such as Wikipedia, Google, Craigslist, WordPress, Mozilla, Reddit and of course The Oatmeal.

Whether or not this direct-action will ultimately effect the passage of these bills through Congress and the Senate remains to be seen, but there are already indications that the tide may be turning, with the White House formally declaring its opposition to portions of the bills and co-sponsors starting to jump ship.

The correct way to protest?

Whilst the blackout protests have gained the support of a large proportion of the Internet community, there are dissenting voices, perhaps not always against the sentiments of the protests, but against the choice of action.

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo branded the blackout action ‘foolish’, choosing to allow Twitter to act as a protest tool, rather than blunting the influence of Twitter user’s around the world by muffling their voices.

And he’s not the only one to see the irony in using voluntary, self-censorship to protest freedom of speech issues, illustrated here by influential blogger, writer and podcaster Merlin Mann.


I’m worried, how do I voice my opposition?

And right you are to be concerned. If we assume a large proportion of the readership of this blog to be all you wonderful people working in the creative industries, legislation like SOPA/PIPA blunts the voices of creative people everywhere to express themselves on the web. Using any of the mediums that the web has embraced over the last 20 years, anyone creating video, photography, music, art, writing or even directing friends and peers to content using social media could be potentially vulnerable to legal attacks.

To take direct action as a website owner, you may want to join today’s action by blacking out your site to send a symbolic message to those in government who seek to pass this legislation as drafted.

For everyone else, let your representatives know your thoughts on this. Let them know that you support freedom of speech on the web and a censorship-free Internet, and conveniently, there are a number of sites that let you do, online, and in seconds. Check out Vote for the Net and Fight for the Future to take action.

No Wikipedia? How do I waste my downtime today?

As always, the guys and girls over at McSweeny’s have got you covered.

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