« Library Workshops and Seminars 2/6-2/10 | Main | Copyright Corner: Determining Copyright Duration »

The Internet Flexes Its Muscle: Blackout Derails SOPA and PIPA

In a move that was hard to miss, an estimated 50,000 websites participated in an information blackout on January 18th to protest two copyright enforcement bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), that were due to be voted on by the House and Senate respectively. With an estimated 50,000 sites and 30 million individuals participating, the protest could not be ignored. In the wake of the protests, several lawmakers withdrew support for the bills, including several bill sponsors. On January 20, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that the PIPA vote would be delayed. Later that same day, SOPA sponsor Lamar Smith (R-TX) followed suit.

This protest marks the first time that internet companies have worked to together to influence the outcome of a legislative decision. Some sites imposed a complete blackout. Wikipedia, for example, shut down its English language site for 24 hours. The company estimates that 162 million people viewed the blackout site, with over 8 million U.S. users registering their protest of the bills by looking up their representative through the blackout page. Other companies continued to offer their services, opting instead to register their protest visually. Google, for example, placed a black box over its logo and provide a link to its position statement and a petition for users to sign.

Aimed at foreign sights which provide access to content pirated from U.S. companies, these bills target U.S. companies that do business with or direct traffic to these sites. Opponents fear that the bill’s fast-track judicial process will result in the complete shut-down of an accused site without the site being able to respond to the charges, raising serious questions about due process and the censorship of legitimate content. They also believe that the close monitoring of user-generated content required by the bills will overwhelm smaller companies and stifle innovation.

Major proponents of the bills, including the Chamber of Commerce, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry of America, claim that these fears are overblown. They argue for the bills’ necessity by siting the toll online piracy takes on the U.S. economy annually, an industry estimated $2.5 billion a year, a figure that has been disputed by some.

While these two bills have been effectively killed, this is not the end of the line for piracy legislation. In fact, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), an international treaty, has sparked protests in several European countries, including Poland and Ireland as the United Kingdom and 21 other EU countries signed the treaty on January 27. ACTA raises many of the same issues as SOPA and PIPA regarding websites and ISP’s responsibilities for user-generated content. ACTA was signed by President Obama as a “sole executive agreement,��? meaning that it does not have to be ratified by Congress to become law, leading some constitutional scholars to questions its constitutionality.

For more information on ACTA and the ongoing negotiations regarding intellectual property law, check out:

Electronic Frontier Foundation

American Library Association’s Intellectual Property Page

If you have questions about researching this or other anti-piracy legislation, please talk to Dick Irving, our Law and Public Policy bibliographer: ririving@albany.edu. To find information on how anti-piracy legislation and other copyright laws affect libraries, contact our Information Studies bibliographer, Deborah Bernnard: dbernnard@albany.edu.

Blog post created by Cary Gouldin