Exactly one week ago thousands of websites temporarily blacked out content to protest online piracy bills. The US government seized a popular but dubious website the next day. Internet hacktivists struck soon after. The legislation was paused before the weekend arrived.
That is the quick and dirty version. Even if the legislation and protests should be news to no one, the FBI crackdown and subsequent backlash have yet to go mainstream.
Websites like Wikipedia blocked their own content Wednesday, Jan. 18 to raise awareness of the PROTECT IP Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act. Most did not return for 24 hours.
Then on Thursday the US Justice Department and FBI shut down the file hosting website Megaupload. Several people who operated Megaupload (including the owner) were arrested and indicted with five charges of copyright infringement and conspiracy.
The FBI seized 18 domain names and an estimated $50 million in assets and servers. Keep in mind this occurred without the assistance of SOPA and PIPA.
Hours after Megaupload was shut down, the internet group Anonymous knocked websites offline via distributed denial of service attacks. Government targets included websites for the FBI, the U.S. Department of Justice and the White House. The websites for Warner Music, Universal Music and the Recording Industry Association of America were also targeted.
The crescendo, however, came on Friday, Jan. 20, when the U.S. House Judiciary Committee postponed plans to draft the SOPA bill and delayed a vote for PIPA.
Perhaps the protests from websites like Wikipedia and Google were to thank for the halt, or maybe it was citizens who overloaded servers and circuit boards as they contacted their government representatives. Or, perhaps it was the low orbit ion cannon DDoS backlash that Anonymous delivered.
Maybe, just maybe, our government representatives realized what a mistake they were making. But this is unlikely. The best argument against SOPA and PIPA — if not most government regulation — is that politicians tend to not understand the subject matter.
There are fundamental ideas about the internet that Texas Representative Lamar Smith did not comprehend when he proposed SOPA. Looking at Smith’s record of copyright legislation, this should come as little surprise.
There will always be Internet pirates to get around IP address blocks and rip copyrighted content — they cannot be legislated away. In addition, allowing media corporations to call the shots on copyright infringement is irresponsible, if not frightening. Most of all, it should be realized that the Internet is regulated without help from SOPA and PIPA.
Even before Megaupload was seized, the website was hit with all kinds of take-down notices and corporate threats.
In December 2011, several music artists collaborated in a promotional ad for Megaupload and the video ad ended up on YouTube. Mere hours after the upload, YouTube received a take-down notice from Universal Media Group. The take-down notice claimed that the ad was a copyright violation of UMG content under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This was incorrect, but Youtube removed the promotional video anyway.
Don’t be confused about the protection of musicians. UMG was against the ad because the video raised awareness about file sharing and piracy. UMG did not even own any content in the ad — unless they think they own the musicians. In essence, a corporate entity bullied a website into taking down content that hurt its feelings without the aid of SOPA or PIPA.
The argument that SOPA and PIPA were meant to protect consumers and producers is absurd. These two bills cater to the overblown entertainment industry and the old media. Sure, the entertainment industry produces money, but so does the technology industry. It should be obvious which of the two uses the Internet to its full potential.
If nothing else, other than outer space, the internet is the final frontier. It needs to stay that way.
A supercomputer would not be able to comprehend what the average Internet user can realize easily. Apparently the average lawmaker cannot realize this simple fact either.
David Haydon is a political science senior and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.