If you're a fairly regular user of the interwebs, it's likely you've heard about SOPA and PIPA, the anti-piracy legislation that was being pushed through Congress by politicians in the pockets of large media companies and organizations like the anti-consumer Motion Picture Association of America — whose president and chief lobbyist, retired U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, was the proposed bill's biggest promoter. If they had passed into law, the bills would have ended the Internet as we know it and allowed for the take-down of entire sites based on the report of one alleged copyright infraction happening anywhere on the site. It would have given government authorities, the police, and large corporations an easy way to shut down and block any content they disagreed with. It would have been an enormous disaster and a huge setback in the development of human society. It's hard to really overstate how bad these pieces of potential law are.
Thankfully SOPA and PIPA met an entirely timely demise after thousands of of the biggest websites (including Wikipedia, Reddit, Firefox, and Wordpress; Google posted a prominent link to an anti-SOPA/PIPA website on its notoriously sparse homepage), went black for a day on Jan. 18 (check out screen shots of participating sites over at GigaOm) and directed their readers and members to learn more about the bills and to take action to prevent them from passing. The flood of attention from the millions of people who responded sent lawmakers scurrying to walk back their support of the law and effectively killed SOPA and PIPA.
It was a wonderful example of the kind of citizen activism that the corporate and government titans (pretty much the same thing now a days) want to suppress with laws like PIPA and SOPA. They are rightly terrified of a world where they don't control how people create, share, and consume media and information. Information is power and a free Internet is a direct threat to those who wish to sustain the status quo of "the people" shutting up and thinking whatever Big Media tells them to.
MPAA President Christopher Dodd, who said that President Obama better get on board with the MPAA's goals if he wants to keep getting financial contributions from Hollywood (sounds a lot of a bribe to me), has vowed that his fight is far from over and that the MPAA would soon be back with another new law to strip everything true and good away from the Internet.
The MPAA and other corporate interests have two things on their side: time and money. They can keep spending millions of dollars to buy politicians and spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt to push through changes in laws that will strip away the freedoms that make our Internet such a powerful tool for human expression and evolution. They can afford to try to push big bills like SOPA and PIPA through while also working to chip away at Internet freedom with smaller, less comprehensive changes. Their hope is that they will either be able to ram a big bill through or pay for enough small changes that their overall goals are realized in the aggregate.
Their other advantage, time, will become valuable after successive rounds of proposed Internet-killing bills. It's hard to stay focused and passionate about an issue after being battered about for years on end, and eventually some of the MPAA's foes may drop out of the fight.
Money and time are the same advantages any large corporate interest has over We, the People. It's really important that we stay vigilant to the next attack and play the response exactly right. It's likely that the next onslaught will be wrapped up in the guise of protecting children from pornographers. If there is one thing that politicians fear more than upset financial contributors is being labeled soft on kiddie porn. Killing SOPA and PIPA was easy compared to the minefield that will have to be traversed to defuse the kiddie porn bomb that the MPAA will deploy next time.
The Khan Academy put together a great video that describes SOPA and PIPA and clearly lays out why they are so bad for the world. If your understanding of the damage SOPA and PIPA would have caused isn't completely up to speed, please take a little time to watch this fantastic walk-through of the issue.
One of the best places to stay ahead of things on the front of Internet freedom protection is the social news site Reddit. They were talking about SOPA and PIPA way ahead of the crowd and played a big part in organizing the Jan. 18 blackouts. You'll have to fight through pictures of funny cats and buckets of memes if you jump in from the top, you can cut some of the noise by jumping into a subreddit like /internet.
Keep your eyes open, interwebs.
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