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Today is (allegedly) the day the internet strikes. Tried going on Reddit? Wanted to look up something on Wikipedia? Tough luck, both sites are blacked out with notification of their cause and a call to action. The ploy? To raise awareness of two highly inflammatory bills, currently nesting in the U.S. Congress – the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP, also known as SOPA and PIPA.
Now, I wrote allegedly for a reason. You can still enter your Facebook without incident, and Google still provides its services (albeit, shyly promoting its position in a link below the search box). The strike of the internet is not as “striking” (pun intended) as you would think. It is a shame because the issue is real; America is one poorly conceived bill away from firewalling themselves in from the rest of the world.
Focusing on the main antagonist, the entertainment industry wants death to online piracy and sure, it is a relatable cause; big or small, it is not cool to see others take credit or revenue for your work. However, you should acknowledge that the accusation of greediness goes both ways – the pirates make money off of content they stole, just as much as the rich entertainment industry is all about profit; some possibly beyond their dues (George Lucas being an excellent example – how much Star Wars re-release can one world take?). Even old man Lamar, the guy who set everything on fire, has probably enjoyed a gift basket or two from Hollywood.
There are people who have fought back claims that SOPA and PIPA should be of any concern to internet users outside the U.S. ‘It’s a national matter,’ they say while also denying that the consequences of online communities will be as diabolical as anticipated (there are real concerns about freedom of speech, innovation, and security involved, which I have not included here). However, I disagree. How much American media content do you think is blasted through mainstream media in countries outside of the USA? How much foreign media content do Americans consume? Name a Danish drama series, a Greek musician, a Peruvian movie, a Chinese comedian, and a South African actress off the top of your head. I dare you.
The fact is that the biggest media empires in the world are American, and if America starts censoring who can see what and where, they are more than likely to alienate the world. Imagine a creature, holding on to his assets, kicking all the other creatures in the head who curiously wanted to know what he was holding. Not a guy you would want to know.
To be honest, the true consequences of SOPA/PIPA will remain speculation until after the fact. Like the threshold of any plague, we will not know the scope until the threat has subsided. There is a possibility that this will be like the swine flu; hysteria at government level, prompting the investment of millions into unreliable vaccines (which were later poured down the drain), where hindsight teaches that people were not that weak after all. Where there is a will, there is a way. On the other hand, SOPA could also be Gwyneth Paltrow, coughing and touching its way through the internet, killing its fundamental function and making it unsafe for anyone to use. Unless you’re Matt Damon, of course.
Yesterday, the White House made clear their position on SOPA. According to the statement, the administration is reluctant to support legislation “that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global internet.” The apparent level of thought that went into this decision seems miles away from what one angry, online-based business owner wrote a month ago. He fired back at the House of Representatives who were eager to ‘get this over with’, saying, “One representative wanted to pass the bill because she was getting bored. Others openly admitted to not knowing how to use the internet. The consensus among them was merely ‘piracy sounds bad, therefore, we should pass this anti-piracy bill’ without any further investigation into its deeper implications.”
Was he satisfied to learn about the thumbs-down Obama gave or that the official vote later this month was cancelled? Well no, because as he puts it: “SOPA is not dead; it’s been ‘shelved’ and won’t return ‘until a consensus is reached.’”
Today’s blackout campaign must bring awareness to the wider population – not just the tech-savvy who see the real risks. Legislation like SOPA, or its sister PIPA, or any distant relative for that matter, would change the nature of the internet to such expected degrees that it is hard for regular users to fathom its consequences completely. Speaking solely about the core of the idea behind SOPA, which is stopping piracy, then yes – walling in American content and chasing people around internally for breaking the rules sounds great. Maybe the rest of the world will rekindle their love for Telenovela and K-pop and enjoy unrestricted content without the Americans, but is this really the world in which we want to live? One nation demanding you do as they say – or nothing?