Internet Black Out: SOPA Gone Wild

Internet Black Out: SOPA Gone Wild

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By now, employers have no doubt noticed a surge in employee productivity levels today. That’s because the Minecraft website is down. Another anomaly sweeping the country is the inordinate amount of incomplete high school and college research papers being turned in. Wikipedia has gone black as well, and that means kids can’t copy and paste entire sections of information as planned.

No Minecraft. No Wikipedia, and no Googling for Yahoo either – believe it or not, Yahoo is one of the most popular Google searches.

Why has the net gone dark? Minecraft, Wikipedia and Google are just a few of the hundreds of websites participating in the online protest known as the SOPA strike.

In fact it’s quite possible that no one is reading this article because, as of last night, WordPress was also listed as a strike participant.

However, in the event WordPress didn’t shut us down, read on for an explanation of why some of your favorite websites are going black, all in the name of their “right” to appropriate your ideas — or in their words, “protect our rights to free speech, privacy, and prosperity.”

Cleverly positioned as a fight to defend online freedom, those participating in the Internet black out are opponents of H.R. 3261, the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (“SOPA”), legislation currently pending in the U.S. House of Representatives.  A sister bill, the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011 (“PROTECT IP,” or “PIPA”), is pending in the U.S. Senate.

A vote on SOPA is scheduled for January 24th – hence today’s ‘occupy websites’ movement.  By going on strike, those participating in the effort hope to kill the bill.

Frustrated because you can’t check out the Minecraft leader boards or wiki the migration patterns of the Snowy Egret? That’s the point – those sites are hoping you will get so upset, and have so much time on your hands because you won’t be surfing the net, that you’ll call Congress to complain about the bill.

It’s grassroots organizing at its best – the Web 3.0 version, taking online activity and manifesting it into real world action.

But before you make that heated call to your member of Congress, you should know that this legislation is actually being passed to protect you.

SOPA and PIPA are all about online consumer protections. When passed, the legislation will ensure that the rights of intellectual property owners are protected online. They will also give the U.S. government and copyright holders additional tools to curb access to “rogue websites dedicated to infringing or counterfeit goods,” especially those registered outside America.

In plain English: no more illegal downloads of movies, music, TV shows, and the like. The U.S. government will also have the jurisdiction to block access to international offenders, like Piratebay.org, that provide access to copyrighted materials for free.

Those opposing this legislation argue that the government should not be allowed to determine what content is available to its citizens. They feel such action treads on their First Amendment rights. But, last time I checked, copyright violations are not protected under the First Amendment.

SOPA/PIPA strikers are confusing the right to say what one wants with the ‘right’ to take what one wants.

Many of you will call Congress today quite heated that the government would attempt to dictate what you can and can’t access via the web, (this is America, not China, after all). But there have always been instances when government intervention has been accepted to protect larger societal interests – child pornography and terrorist threats anyone?

By telling Congress your “right” to download the latest version of Adobe Photoshop for free is abridged by SOPA/PIPA, you are basically saying that it’s ok to steal someone else’s intellectual property and jeopardize the potential economic interest they have in their ideas and creative works. You’re also telling big companies it’s okay to steal from you as well.

You may think, ‘Beyonce and Jay-z just bought baby Blue Ivy a $600,000, solid gold rocking horse. They don’t need my $15.99 for that new album. Imma cop that for free.’

While they may not need the extra money, put that shoe on the other foot and imagine your future self:

YOUR CD just dropped. YOU just invented the latest, greatest App. YOUR blockbuster feature film debut is about to hit theaters.

Do you really want people to mosey on over to Pirate Bay.org and download your creation instead of paying money to consume your brilliant product? While you may be a rock star in your own mind, odds are high that you can’t afford that solid gold rocking horse just yet, so it’s going to hit you where it hurts.

Or just maybe you’re only at the idea stage of one of those great creations. No money to capitalize on it yet? No worries, there’s a big company waiting in the wings to take it off your hands, after all, in the current Internet environment what’s to stop them from scanning your emails, stalking your blog posts, and ripping off your code? The Winklevoss Twins are still mad at Mark Zuckerburg for capitalizing on their billion-dollar idea.

According to the Motion Picture Association of America (“MPAA”), an estimated “58 billion in economic output is lost to the U.S. economy annually due to copyright theft of movies, music, packaged software and video games.” But it’s not just the big studios and distributors who bear the brunt of this loss – it’s the vendors and crew who staff productions, and the would-be movie makers whose films never see the light of day because they’re just too risky to make that will be hit the hardest.

We’ve already seen what’s happened to the music industry. Labels folded, acts were dropped, people were fired, and maybe that is why YOU never got your record deal.

The Internet is a great place. To keep it that way, we need to take a real look at how our actions impact others, and not just run around screaming ‘the sky is falling’ like a bunch of Girls Gone Wild.

 

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