The online and on-street protesters against proposed anti-piracy laws SOPA and PIPA appear to have achieved some of their objectives, even if they are warning that the battle is not yet won.
Wikipedia, by far the most prominent of the many websites that blacked themselves out on Wednesday, thanked its users in a statement for their support. “More than 162 million people saw our message asking if you could imagine a world without free knowledge. You said no. You shut down Congress’s switchboards. You melted their servers,” the statement read, adding that “SOPA and PIPA are not dead: they are waiting in the shadows.”
In fact SOPA and PIPA are waiting in the US House of Representatives and the Senate respectively. But their progress on the path to becoming law has been slowed by the efforts of sites which for a while went dark completely (Wikipedia, reddit, Boing Boing…) and others that remained live to protest on their homepage (Google, Craigslist…). Several senators and representatives in Washington have withdrawn their support for the legislation, including two of the bills’ co-sponsors Marco Rubio and Roy Blunt. Perhaps fittingly, Rubio made his announcement on Facebook, one of the tech heavyweights in the anti-SOPA camp.
Hollywood versus Silicon Valley
SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (PROTECT Intellectual Property Act) are being promoted by the US film, TV and music industries. They want to stop what they produce being shared for free on the internet. They claim content theft costs the US economy tens of billions of dollars, as well as hundreds of thousands of jobs every year. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has attacked the protests of Wikipedia and co. in an official statement condemning what it calls “stunts that punish their users or turn them into their corporate pawns.”
Most people on both sides of the argument agree that legislation is needed to combat piracy. But many say the problem with SOPA and PIPA is that they have been written with precious little consideration for the actual consequences. Under the terms of the bills, the likes of Facebook, Google and Youtube could be shut down completely for containing, distributing or linking to content suspected of being put there illegally.
Jordan Hahn, CEO of IT firm Silent Movement Inc. told euronews:
“Both bills contain broad language which could be used to censor web content and search engines in ways similar to China’s Great Firewall. The bills themselves are so far-reaching, it is impossible to predict their potential effects upon the internet as a whole. The question I have for the American government is simply this: Is it a good idea to put restrictions upon the last bastion of American innovation?”
A good example being put forward of the unforeseen complications comes from the website of the very man behind writing SOPA, Texas congressman Lamar Smith. It’s claimed here that Smith used an image on his own campaign website without asking the permission of the photographer who owns the right to that image. Smith would in effect be breaking the law he is trying to create.
One week ago very few people had even heard of SOPA and PIPA, which looked to be sailing serenely towards becoming US law. Reports of their death are, for the moment, exaggerated. But the giants of Silicon Valley appear to have won the public relations battle against their rivals in Hollywood and it is looking increasingly likely that the anti-piracy campaigners will have to return to the drawing board.