Internet Site Blackout To Protest Web Censorship in America

Internet Site Blackout To Protest Web Censorship in America

In an effort to reduce online piracy in the music and movie industries (among others), Congress and the Senate are proposing to pass two initiatives called Protect IP Act (PIPA) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). As with any law facing our nation, these two are very complex and without a full understanding of what their intended purposes are, it can be difficult to decide how you feel. For detailed information, you should check out the official documents at the Library of Congress website: SOPA, PIPA

The Basics

Both bills attempt to put blocks on foreign websites that contain copyright material or are known to provide copyrighted materials through its servers, website, etc. This can be done in various ways, but one method was that the U.S. Department of Justice would be allowed to pursue court orders that would force Internet providers to block entire domains of infringing websites from reaching the American public. Imagine finding out that could not be accessed from your computer because it was blocked at Verizon! Before you stop and say that none of this affects you because you don’t pirate anything, understand the implications of something like this. In the future, this law can be expanded to include all sorts of “bad sites” that the government doesn’t want you to see. Fortunately due to a huge backlash regarding this specific portion of the bills, it has been dropped from both.

Another method would allow copyright holders to seek blockages at the advertising level, effectively rendering a website unable to do business with advertisers, payment processors, etc. Since a large majority of (if not all) websites operate on funding from advertising, affiliate commissions and basic product/service sales, these websites would eventually fold. This method could take it a step further and request that all search links be removed from search engines such as Google. Any website wishing to fight back would have 5 days to appeal these actions.

The main difference between the two bills is that SOPA defines a “foreign infringing site” as any site facilitating or committing copyright infringement. PIPA defines the “infringing” site as a site that has no other apparent function other than copyright infringement. In practice, SOPA could potentially shut down websites that simply have links to sites that are defined as infringing sites. This could mean that if I linked to a site that had some infringing material buried deep within its root that I didn’t know about, I could be taken down as a result of a SOPA investigation. It’s a scary thought that, we (as site owners) would have to look at every area of a website before linking to it.

The Protests

Try going to Wikipedia (English) or Google today and you’ll see this:

Wikipedia blacked out

Google blacked outWhereas Wikipedia had blocked access to their entire English website for 24 hours in protest, Google simply blacked out their logo and added links for users to join the fight and sign a digital petition while blasting the message across Facebook, Twitter and Google+. I have done all 4.

Opponents of the laws say that while they are a valiant attempt to fight a noble cause, the potential for abuse is too great to yield any real positive from it. Because advertisers would hold all the cards in deciding what constitutes infringement, they could potentially shut down websites based on false accusations. Also, unless clearly defined, who gets to decide what is infringing and what’s not in the case of gray-area sites? Another point to consider regards websites that host third-party content. They would have to monitor their users and content much more closely than they do now. While this type of monitoring is fine for large sites like YouTube, it could cause nightmares for smaller startups.

My two cents

Ever since technology has allowed us to convert just about anything in the real world to a digital counterpart, individuals have taken advantage of the Internet as a means of distributing such content. Whether it’s through direct connections such as an email attachment or an FTP server or it’s through a more in-direct approach such as downloading torrent files, piracy has risen as a result and has probably caused some loss of revenue to the makers of this content.

The reason I say “probably” is because there is no accurate measurement of how much money is lost due to digital piracy. In fact, there’s no real way to determine what money is lost in ANY type of piracy. As an example, to figure out a number for bootlegged DVDs, all you could do is count how many bootlegs are known to exist and multiply that by the approximate retail cost. However, these numbers are still just estimates and always will be.

With online piracy, there’s also the argument that “I wouldn’t have paid for it anyway. I only downloaded it because it was there.” If this argument is true for a specific case, then no loss of revenue would be had because there was no purchase to begin with. There was an article years ago in which someone asked Adobe Inc. why they continue to offer free trial versions of their software, Adobe PhotoShop (at one time, the most pirated software available) and they simply said, “We do it for our real customers—the ones that will always buy a license. The ones spending time and energy applying cracks and fake serial numbers to bypass trial limitations would never have paid for the software to begin with.”

I find that to be so true. I can’t afford to spend $1000 on PhotoShop and unless I was in a job that required it, I will never buy it. If I got it for free (as a trial or some other means) then ok, I might use it. But I’m not downloading a bootleg copy to bypass paying for it simply because I would never have bought it.

Lastly, I believe that major media companies are trying to buy their way out of a broken business model (selling physical CDs and DVDs). I feel that if they get with the times and give people content the way they want to get it (Spotify and Netflix), they could focus their energies and monies on maximizing profits in the digital world. Don’t try to bend the world to your business model…bend your business model to the world. This is the age we live in—embrace it.

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