Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Understanding #SOPA

Today is the big day. January 18, 2011 will live in infamy. The much-ballyhooed Internet Blackout is taking place. Several websites, most notably online encyclopedia Wikipedia, have shut down for the day. Others are staying open, like Google, but throwing its support to the Internet Blackout by putting a black bar over its main page.

What is everybody protesting? They are protesting the Stop Online Piracy Act. Abbreviated as SOPA, hash-tagged as #SOPA.

What is SOPA? If you look at various tweets and Facebook posts and other assorted knee-jerk reactions, SOPA is an attempt to censor the Internet. These people are trying to destroy Wikipedia and YouTube and Twitter and Etc...

The Stop Online Piracy Act is designed to do what is states, stop online piracy. It was introduced by Lamar Smith, a Republican in Texas' House of Representatives. House Bill 3261, as SOPA is more formally known, is designed to protect copyrighted works and the people/corporations who own those copyrights.

Why is something like SOPA necessary? Have you ever downloaded a song or movie? In a nutshell, that is the reasoning behind SOPA. More specificially, it was created to stop online piracy by overseas entities of copyrighted content, specificially music and movies.

Enough with the knee-jerk reactions by people who have never heard of SOPA before today. This is not an attempt to censor the Internet or make your life harder to live. This bill was created with the best of intentions. Online piracy is something that needs to be stopped.

However, the issue with the SOPA bill is that it is vague and there is potential for censorship. You know when you go to YouTube and try to watch a video and there is a message that says the video has been removed due to a copyright issue. Presently, if you upload that video, it gets taken down and you're told to stop doing it. If SOPA were to go into effect, it looks like you could potentially be prosecuted and given jail time for uploading a copyrighted video to YouTube.

And that applies to everything - putting something up on your Facebook or Twitter, linking something in Wikipedia or other sites could potentially be seen as the unlawful distribution of copyrighted material.

Some stuff should be stopped. Somebody stealing somebody's content and putting it on their own website - be it cartoons, writings, etc - for profit should be stopped. Profiting off of somebody else's hard work should not be allowed. SOPA would look to stop things of that nature.

But, the vagueness of SOPA would allow for something like me innocently putting somebody else's cartoon in my blog and then me getting my site taken down and potentially going to jail for it. I'm not profiting off of it; it's just there. But, I didn't create it and don't own it, so I'm in violation of the SOPA act.

That's the problem here. It is a good idea in theory, but looks to have a lot of problems in its possible execution. Not to age-discriminate here, but it looks like the problem here is an old man who doesn't understand the Internet is trying to fix it. Representative Smith is 64 years old. He is not part of the "Internet Generation." While I don't claim to know Mr. Smith's Internet prowess, I doubt he blogs or surfs the 'net. At the most, I figure Mr. Smith likely checks his email, and it wouldn't surprise me if he didn't even do that.

People who don't understand the Internet should not attempt to regulate it. If I created the SOPA bill and was told that representatives of Wikipedia, Google, Yahoo and Facebook JUST TO NAME A FEW thought this was a bad idea, that would lead me to seriously question what I'm doing. And that is just what happened. Those sites, in addition to several more, have spoken out against SOPA.

With everybody speaking out and protesting what a poorly-written piece of legislation SOPA is, hopefully that will stop this from becoming a reality. Nothing is certain, but it is likely that House Bill 3261 will come up for discussion sometime in February. Hopefully enough voices have been heard and common sense will prevail.

Humor website http://www.theoatmeal.com/sopa is also currently part of the Internet blackout. On their home page is an animated .GIF describing SOPA. Take a look at it. It's humorous and summed up what I just said in a couple pictures.

Also, check out this post from CNN's blog. It has some more information and also some screenshots of Google's & Wikipedia's home pages - http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2012/01/18/sopa-internet-blackout/

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