If you're wondering why large chunks of the internet appear to be broken, do not adjust your set: today marks a day of website shut-downs in protest over a pair of proposed anti-piracy bills in the US, known as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA.)
The two acts have a single goal in mind: to provide US-based intellectual property owners such as film studios and music producers to take down sites anywhere in the world with a single unsubstantiated claim of piracy.
The two acts are simply tools, their proponents claim, to help stem the damaging tide of wide-scale internet-based piracy; without which it will be impossible for the US to protect its valuable intellectual property rights both at home and abroad.
That's an argument which isn't going down well with those on the outside: hundreds of websites, including high-profile sites like Wikipedia, WordPress, Boing Boing and Reddit, have chosen today to begin a twenty-four hour blackout period to protest what they claim is a serious threat to free speech on the internet. Even Google is getting in on the act, blacking out its logo on Google.com in protest at the censorship aspects of SOPA and PIPA. Others are taking to the streets
to protest the bills.
The complaint comes from the redress provided under SOPA and PIPA to rightsholders: in the event of alleged piracy, rightsholders would be allowed to effectively remove a website from the internet by demanding that the site be de-listed from search engines, that advertising and payment partners withdraw their services and even that ISPs add the site to a blacklist of verboten destinations altogether.
It seems ridiculous that lawmakers could be looking to hand such control to a cartel of privately held businesses, but as a write-up of the legislation on Gizmodo
shows, it's worryingly real.
Those arguing for SOPA and PIPA are adamant that today's blackout is little more than bullying. 'It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information and use their services,
' Chris Dodd, chair of the Motion Picture Association of America and former senator, claimed in a statement to press earlier this week. 'It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today. It's a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users in order to further their corporate interests.
The MPAA - and other pro-IP groups, including the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) - are running out of support, however. Even Microsoft, which has never been averse to a copyright lawsuit or twelve, has announced
that it opposes the SOPA bill 'as currently drafted
,' while a statement from the White House
has put paid to the upcoming SOPA reading and put pressure on those lobbying for PIPA ahead of its own reading later this month.
Lobby groups are unlikely to give up the fight, however, and as they renew their efforts to get SOPA, PIPA and similar acts passed it's likely we'll be seeing more protests like those taking place today.
Are you in full support of those sites that chose to go 'dark' to protest SOPA/PIPA, or do you think there are better ways to make your displeasure heard? Share your thoughts over in the forums