The fallout from the blackout

In the wake of as many as 7,000 websites going black in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act, Congress won’t take the up controversial bills this session.

On Wednesday, Jan. 18, thousands of websites, such as Wikipedia, Reddit and WordPress, blacked out their websites to protest the legislation intended to prevent digital piracy in what was the largest protest in tech world history. The PIPA, originally slated for a vote on Jan. 24, is “a bill to prevent online threats to economic creativity and theft of intellectual property, and for other purposes.” The SOPA has similar intents, but it was a House bill. In addition to the large online protest, voting on PIPA was recently postponed to a pending date as a result of poor support from the Senate .

Photo illustration by Chris Bunker

Some websites blacked out their sites on January 18 to keep the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP act (PIPA) from becoming law.

Marguerite Driessen, who taught law at BYU for 10 years and currently teaches media law in the Communications Department and said the bills looked good on paper but were broad in application.

“It was a bill ostensibly drafted to protect an individual’s intellectual property,” Driessen said. “What it really did was give the Hollywood hitters a weapon to try to force peer platforms, like YouTube and Wikipedia, to police their alleged copyright rights for them.”

The Motion Picture Association of America and U.S. Chamber of Commerce are both strong supporters of SOPA and PIPA, asserting the acts will ensure greater protection of intellectual property such as movies and music.

Major sites based on user content provided means for viewers to understand the basics of the bills and know the underwriting in them. On Jan. 18, Google provided a link on its home page to a digital petition. In an article from the Washington Post, Google said it collected more than 7 million signatures.

SOPA and PIPA were created to stop online copyright infringement and piracy, add extra protection to artists from having their songs, movies or artwork used without their intent and prevent Internet users from using foreign piracy sites. However, the SOPA defines a “foreign infringing site” as any site facilitating copyright infringement. This could include YouTube, Facebook or any blogging site.

The PIPA bill says any site with no significant use other than facilitating copyright infringement falls under this category. The possible actions taken, as stated in the bills, are black-barring the URL or other options such as blocking the website.

Michelle Schwoebel, a master’s student from Indianapolis, Ind., studying German, perhaps represented thousands of students’ shared feelings and said, “While the bill isn’t being created for the purpose of censorship, the way it would be used when it is put into action would certainly lend itself to it.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, recently withdrew his sponsorship of PIPA. In a news release, Hatch said he understood intellectual property theft is an issue, but there are too many “far-reaching consequences.”

“Given the legitimate vocal concerns,” Hatch said, “it is imperative that we take a step back to allow everyone to come together and find a reasonable solution.”

Driessen said user-based websites, such as YouTube, are practically free advertising for artists. She said when people have sung popular songs on YouTube, frequently parodying the songs, the sales for the songs often increased when views were high. Rarely was permission given from the artist to publicize the content.

Schwoebel said SOPA and PIPA, if passed, wouldn’t eliminate piracy. She said criminals will still find a way around the laws.

“Do I want people being able to have other illegal behaviors facilitated? No,” Schwoebel said. “But with any format, there are going to be people who take advantage of the system and you can’t completely get rid of it.”

The stalled acts have brought about the new Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) act, which will combat piracy as well. The content of the bill is similar to SOPA and PIPA. However, it defines a foreign site as one that “willfully promotes copyright violation.”

Hatch said, “Our Founding Fathers understood that protecting people’s ideas is essential to a robust and healthy democracy.”

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