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SOPA, PIPA shelved after protests

Tech Columnist

Published: Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 21:01


Illustration by Pai/Bay Area News Group/MCT

Both SOPA and PIPA were postponed indefinitely on January 20 in the wake of the largest online protest in history. Website blackouts by online-encyclopedia giant Wikipedia and other sites led to hundreds of thousands of emails to members of Congress. Search engine leader Google posted a petition in protest which received 4.5 million signatures according to Google's report to The Los Angeles Times. In addition, the White House Blog confirms over 100,000 signatures on two petitions calling for the protection of internet openness and innovation.

SOPA, an abbreviation for the Stop Online Piracy Act, was being presented in the House of Representatives, and PIPA, the Protect IP Act, covers the same issues in the Senate. The two bills are aimed at combating internet piracy of intellectual property. Most of those protesting agree with these goals, but believe that the wording of these bills is too broad.

Wikipedia explains their concerns by saying, "SOPA and PIPA would put the burden on website owners to police user-contributed material and call for the unnecessary blocking of entire sites. Small sites won't have sufficient resources to defend themselves. Big media companies may seek to cut off funding sources for their foreign competitors, even if copyright isn't being infringed. Some foreign sites would be prevented from showing up in major search engines. And SOPA and PIPA build a framework for future restrictions and suppression." The positions expressed by Wikipedia were echoed on other websites that joined the protest.

In calling for signatures for its petition, Google stated, "fighting online piracy is important. The most effective way to shut down pirate websites is through targeted legislation that cuts off their funding. There's no need to make American social networks, blogs and search engines censor the Internet or undermine the existing laws that have enabled the Web to thrive, creating millions of U.S. jobs." By providing an alternative to the current laws, Google attempts to provide a compromise between the supporters and detractors.

Those opposed to this legislation believe that these bills, as written, may have unacceptable consequences, such as censorship and prosecution without sufficient burden of proof. Many also disagree with proposed legislation which effectively punishes American companies for the actions of websites administered in other countries. The bills raised enough concern that many Americans decided to let their opposition be known, and the White House and members of both the Senate and House of Representatives responded.

A White House statement released on their website stated, "while we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet." It would seem that the protests successfully raised awareness and expressed the seriousness of their goals.

According to technology news website Ars Technica, 19 Senators have withdrawn their support of PIPA since last Wednesday, including seven who initially co-sponsored the bill. Sen. Roy Blount (R. Mo.), who posted the following statement to Twitter this Thursday, "I strongly oppose sanctioning Americans' right to free speech in any medium, including over the internet. We can find a solution that will protect lawful content. But this bill is flawed & that's why I'm withdrawing my support," was among these seven.

In an email, Illinois' Senator Mark Kirk had this to say, "I stand with those who stand for freedom in opposing PIPA in its current form. Freedom of speech is an inalienable right granted to each and every American, and the Internet has become the primary tool with which we utilize this right. The Internet empowers Americans to learn, create, innovate, and express their views. While we should protect American intellectual property, consumer safety and human rights, we should do so in a manner that specifically targets criminal activity. The extreme measures taken in PIPA not only stifle First Amendment rights but also hamper innovation on the Internet."

In the House, Representative Lamar Smith, author of the Stop Online Privacy Act, has withdrawn the bill from consideration. According to the International Business Times, Smith explained his decision by stating, "I have heard from the critics and I take seriously their concerns regarding proposed legislation to address the problem of online piracy. It is clear that we need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products."

Statements such as these indicate that the White House, and both the Senate and the House of Representatives remain determined in their efforts to combat copyright violation and online piracy. While few disagree with these goals, we can expect that Americans and the online community in particular will remain vigilant and outspoken in their analysis of future legislation proposed on this matter.

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