Pro and Con: Speaking Up in Support and Protest of SOPA and Internet Blackouts

ICTMN Staff
1/18/12

Numerous influential tech firms, such as Wikipedia and Reddit, are staging protests today against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA).

The proposed bills are geared at cracking down on copyright infringement by prohibiting access to "rogue" sites that offer pirated content, such as illegal downloads of movies, music, television shows and other content.

The acts—supported by some big entertainment companies such as the Motion Picture Association of America and some media interests such as Time Warner—would prevent search engines like Google from showing sites flagged for piracy in their search results. It would also prevent online payment services such as eBay and PayPal from making transactions to them.

SOPA opponents say the acts would also lead to censorship and threaten the very structure of the Internet. Critics include many original architects of the Internet, such as the founders of Google, Twitter, Mozilla Firefox, Yahoo!, YouTube, LinkedIn, Flickr and more. On December 15, 83 of these "Internet engineers" signed an open letter to Congress stating their opposition to the SOPA and PIPA bills. ProPublica breaks down SOPA's supporters and opponents in Congress.

To protest SOPA and PIPA,  up to 7,000 sites are planning to black out today, PC Magazine reported. In perhaps the most dramatic protest, Wikipedia's English site has blacked out its 3.8 million encyclopedia pages. Visitors to the website will instead see a message beginning, "Imagine a world without free knowledge." English Wikipedia receives 25 million average daily visitors globally, comScore estimates.

Google is still active but is protesting the acts on its homepage with a black rectangle over the search engine's logo and the link: "Tell Congress: Please don't censor the web!"

For more information on sites that planned to blackout today, read Indian Country Today Media Network's article "Internet Going on Strike Over SOPA: Here's Why."

Here, ICTMN rounds up statements from those for and against the proposed acts:

PRO

"Big bipartisan majorities both houses sold out by POTUS for search engines. How about 2.2 m workers in entertainment industry? Piracy rules," Rupert Murdoch tweeted. The media mogul also tweeted: "Nonsense argument about danger to Internet. How about Google, others blocking porn, hate speech, etc? Internet hurt?"

The CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, former U.S. Senator Chris Dodd, calls the protests against SOPA and PIPA "stunts" that punish users rather than effectively make a statement. "Only days after the White House and chief sponsors of the legislation responded to the major concern expressed by opponents and then called for all parties to work cooperatively together, some technology business interests are resorting to stunts that punish their users or turn them into their corporate pawns, rather than coming to the table to find solutions to a problem that all now seem to agree is very real and damaging," Dodd said in a statement. "It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information and use their services. It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today."

Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said, "Critics of the Stop Online Piracy Act cannot point to any language in the bill to back up their claims. Their concerns are based on speculation and hyperbole, rather than reality. There is no language that would criminalize actions by domestic political bloggers. There is nothing that would require Internet service providers or bloggers to 'censor' the Internet," reported Politico.

CON

A statement released on behalf of the Obama Administration states, “… we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet. Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small.”

A Google spokeswoman said yesterday, "Like many businesses, entrepreneurs and web users, we oppose these bills because there are smart, targeted ways to shut down foreign rogue websites without asking American companies to censor the Internet. So tomorrow we will be joining many other tech companies to highlight this issue on our US home page."

Craigslist released the statement: "What could be more anti-American than jack-booted thugs throttling our free speech, poisoning that greatest of American inventions, the Internet, while devastating perhaps our most successful and competitive industry? There's got to be a better way to sell more stereo cables."

Brad Burnham, co-founder of Union Square Ventures, which helped produce Kickstarter, Foursquare and Etsy, said: "The current legislation in Congress does not just create an administrative burden, it requires service providers who have built wonderful businesses on a deep conviction about human nature to change their relationship with their users in a way that subverts their core values."

Tom Jeffries?, the CEO and founder of Safe-Xchange, Divvycast LLC, and Singing Electrons, Inc.?, as well as a former professional musician, said: "New inventions are disruptive. Trying to use legal means to go back to the past is not going to work. It is extremely important that we find ways to turn file sharing into something that makes money for copyright owners, but it has to be done right. SOPA is the wrong way to do it."

Stewart Baker at the Volokh Conspiracy said: "Unfortunately, the things a browser does to bypass a criminal site will also defeat SOPA’s scheme for blocking pirate sites."

Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn released the following statement yesterday: "Congress is playing fast and loose with Internet censorship legislation that would have people like Justin Bieber thrown in jail for uploading a video to YouTube. The Internet censorship legislation could severely restrict free speech, and put a stranglehold on one of the most innovative, job-creating industries of our time. MoveOn is joining the massive website blackout because it's critical to preserve an open internet that enables our members to engage on issues they care about. Members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, would be wise to take a step back and reconsider their support for this reckless legislation."

A letter signed by California Democratic Representatives Zoe Lofgren and Anna Eshoo and Texas Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, predicts that SOPA will invite "an explosion of innovation-killing lawsuits and litigation."

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