The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its baby sister, the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPPA) sound innocuous enough. They are slated to bring in legislation that will prevent overseas websites from selling pirated movies, music and other right protected property in the US. This would protect the interests of the Hollywood elite who are finding it increasingly difficult to make money off artists outside of the movie theatre and concert hall.
In the opposite corner are Internet heavyweights like Google, Wikipedia and Facebook who claim that the legislation is too broad and will most likely punish innocent US sites who unwittingly host pirated content. They claim that the legislation will restrict the current freedoms enjoyed by the Internet. It would also bolster the current practice by less democratic countries that block content that they don’t like and could stop payments to sites which contain information that the government does not agree with.
The US House Judiciary Committee was considering the bill and its amendments. A final decision on whether to send the bill to the House for a vote was to be made in February.
Denizens of the Internet reacted strongly to the proposed legislation. On January 18th, their protest went live as Wikipedia, Reddit and hundreds of other websites blacked out their pages and posted links to protest petitions. Large swathes of private websites were blacked out by individual owners who supported the protest. Millions of people wrote to their delegates, signed petitions or protested on the streets.
So overwhelming was the support for the freedom of the Internet that the legislators backed down and shelved the proposals indefinitely. This is not to say that the battle is won. It being an election year, the powers that be are reticent to offend the voting public and with Obama already pledging to veto the bills in their current form, the opposition had no choice other than to back down.
We have not seen the back of this legislation as several versions of the bills have already reanimated themselves and are dragging their zombie bodies through the legislative process. Remaining informed and alert to Internet restrictions in whatever form they take will help to keep the Internet the free and open forum we have come to know and love.