The Day the Internet Roared

Amy Goodman> Thursday 19 January 2012   Nation of Change

“As the Internet blackout protest progressed Jan. 18, and despite Dodd’s lobbying, legislators began retreating from support for the bills.”

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Photo: Aaron Es­co­bar

Wednes­day, Jan. 18, marked the largest on­line protest in the his­tory of the In­ter­net. Web­sites from large to small “went dark” in protest of pro­posed leg­is­la­tion be­fore the U.S. House and Sen­ate that could pro­foundly change the In­ter­net.

The two bills, SOPA in the House and PIPA in the Sen­ate, os­ten­si­bly aim to stop the piracy of copy­righted ma­te­r­ial over the In­ter­net on web­sites based out­side the U.S. Crit­ics, among them the founders of Google, Wikipedia, the In­ter­net Archive, Tum­blr and Twit­ter, counter that the laws will sti­fle in­no­va­tion and in­vest­ment, hall­marks of the free, open In­ter­net. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has of­fered muted crit­i­cism of the leg­is­la­tion, but, as many of his sup­port­ers have painfully learned, what Pres­i­dent Barack Obama ques­tions one day he signs into law the next.

First, the ba­sics. SOPA stands for the Stop On­line Piracy Act, while PIPA is the Pro­tect IP Act. The two bills are very sim­i­lar. SOPA would allow copy­right hold­ers to com­plain to the U.S. at­tor­ney gen­eral about a for­eign web­site they al­lege is “com­mit­ting or fa­cil­i­tat­ing the com­mis­sion of crim­i­nal vi­o­la­tions” of copy­right law. This re­lates mostly to pi­rated movies and music.

SOPA would allow the movie in­dus­try, through the courts and the U.S. at­tor­ney gen­eral, to send a slew of de­mands that In­ter­net ser­vice providers (ISPs) and search-en­gine com­pa­nies shut down ac­cess to those al­leged vi­o­la­tors, and even to pre­vent link­ing to those sites, thus mak­ing them “un­find­able.” It would also bar In­ter­net ad­ver­tis­ing providers from mak­ing pay­ments to web­sites ac­cused of copy­right vi­o­la­tions.

SOPA could, then, shut down a com­mu­nity-based site like YouTube if just one of its mil­lions of users was ac­cused of vi­o­lat­ing one U.S. copy­right. As David Drum­mond, Google’s chief legal of­fi­cer and an op­po­nent of the leg­is­la­tion, blogged, “Last year alone we acted on copy­right take­down no­tices for more than 5 mil­lion web­pages.” He wrote, “PIPA & SOPA will cen­sor the web, will risk our in­dus­try’s track record of in­no­va­tion and job cre­ation, and will not stop piracy.”

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Corynne Mc­Sh­erry, in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty di­rec­tor at the Elec­tronic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion (EFF.​org), told me: “These bills pro­pose new pow­ers for the gov­ern­ment and for pri­vate ac­tors to cre­ate, ef­fec­tively, black­lists of sites … then force ser­vice providers to block ac­cess to those sites. That’s why we call these the cen­sor­ship bills.”

The bills, she says, are the cre­ation of the en­ter­tain­ment, or “con­tent,” in­dus­tries: “SOPA, in par­tic­u­lar, was ne­go­ti­ated with­out any con­sul­ta­tion with the tech­nol­ogy sec­tor. They were specif­i­cally ex­cluded.” The ex­clu­sion of the tech sec­tor has alarmed not only Sil­i­con Val­ley ex­ec­u­tives, but also con­ser­v­a­tives like Utah Re­pub­li­can Con­gress­man Jason Chaf­fetz, a tea party fa­vorite. He said in a De­cem­ber House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee hear­ing, “We’re ba­si­cally going to re­con­fig­ure the In­ter­net and how it’s going to work, with­out bring­ing in the nerds.”

PIPA spon­sor Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in a press re­lease, “Much of what has been claimed about [PIPA] is flatly wrong and seems in­tended more to stoke fear and con­cern than to shed light or fos­ter work­able so­lu­tions.”

Sadly, Leahy’s ire sounds re­mark­ably sim­i­lar to that of his for­mer Sen­ate col­league Christo­pher Dodd, who, after re­tir­ing, took the job of chair­man and CEO of the pow­er­ful lob­by­ing group Mo­tion Pic­ture As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica (at a re­ported salary of $1.2 mil­lion an­nu­ally), one of the chief back­ers of SOPA/PIPA. Said Dodd of the broad-based, grass-roots In­ter­net protest, “It’s a dan­ger­ous and trou­bling de­vel­op­ment when the plat­forms that serve as gate­ways to in­for­ma­tion in­ten­tion­ally skew the facts to in­cite their users in order to fur­ther their cor­po­rate in­ter­ests.” 

EFF’s Mc­Sh­erry said, “No one asked the In­ter­net—well, the In­ter­net is speak­ing now. Peo­ple are re­ally ris­ing up and say­ing: ‘Don’t in­ter­fere with basic In­ter­net in­fra­struc­ture. We won’t stand for it.’ ”

 As the In­ter­net black­out protest pro­gressed Jan. 18, and de­spite Dodd’s lob­by­ing, leg­is­la­tors began re­treat­ing from sup­port for the bills. The In­ter­net roared, and the politi­cians lis­tened, rem­i­nis­cent of the pop­u­lar up­ris­ing against media con­sol­i­da­tion in 2003 pro­posed by then-Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion Chair­man Michael Pow­ell, the son of Gen. Colin Pow­ell. In­for­ma­tion is the cur­rency of democ­racy, and peo­ple will not sit still as mon­eyed in­ter­ests try to deny them ac­cess.

When In­ter­net users vis­ited the sixth-most pop­u­lar web­site on the planet dur­ing the protest black­out, the Eng­lish-lan­guage sec­tion of Wikipedia.​org, they found this mes­sage:

“Imag­ine a World With­out Free Knowl­edge.

“For over a decade, we have spent mil­lions of hours build­ing the largest en­cy­clo­pe­dia in human his­tory. Right now, the U.S. Con­gress is con­sid­er­ing leg­is­la­tion that could fa­tally dam­age the free and open In­ter­net.”

In a world with fresh, In­ter­net-fu­eled rev­o­lu­tions, it seems that U.S. politi­cians are get­ting the mes­sage.

Denis Moyni­han con­tributed re­search to this col­umn.

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Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 900 stations in North America. She is the author of “Breaking the Sound Barrier,” recently released in paperback and now a New York Times best-seller.

© 2011 Amy Good­man
Dis­trib­uted by King Fea­tures Syn­di­cate

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