Today you might have noticed that some of your favorite websites such as Wikipedia and Reddit are dark (offline). I’m sure in place of their usual content they have an explanation as to why this is. Maybe you haven’t visited any of these websites, maybe you have no idea what this protest is. Let me explain.
The January 18th blackouts were devised as a protest against the proposed bills SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act). For the most part all the major online players are against it, Craigslist, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yahoo, AOL. You’re probably still a little fuzzy as to what exactly SOPA and PIPA are. Both bills were designed as a way for the US law enforcement and copyright holders to expand their capabilities to fight against online trafficking of copyright and intellectual properties’ and counterfeit items.
This bill was originally a vehicle for major drug companies like Pfizer to help stop counterfeit drugs from Canada or Mexico. Hollywood saw this as a perfect opportunity to try and stop the sale of bootlegged videos from Asia.
How does any of this affect you? Actually it could affect you greatly.
If these bills were to become a law many are predicting the end of websites like flickr, vimeo, etsy, and youtube, basically anywhere that relies on user generated content. It could spell the end of free speech on the internet (which is already limited). I’ve read where this could extend to the links you post on Facebook and Twitter. You might say that I and many others are overreacting, consider this analogy for just a moment. If you’ve read tech news in the last few years you’ve probably seen a slew of articles concerning patent infringement by Apple, Samsung, Nokia, Microsoft etc. In a nutshell what’s occurring here is that each company is busy buying up patents for broad hardware and software components, then suing their competitors for patent infringement. It’s not good for the companies, it’s not good for the government, and it’s not good for us, but because it’s another way to get a leg up on your competition by restricting them, it happens every day.
This is essentially what I see happening if SOPA and PIPA pass. Large corporations, like who? (RIAA, MPAA, News Corp, TimeWarner, Walmart, Nike, Tiffany, Chanel, Rolex, Sony, Juicy Couture, Ralph Lauren, VISA, Mastercard, Comcast, ABC, Dow Chemical, Monster Cable, Teamsters, Rupert Murdoch, you know a list of real honest and trustworthy companies) flexing their greedy muscles to take down companies for copyright infringement starting from the largest, right down to you and I.
But that’s not written into the bill, so how could all that possibly happen? That’s where I get to the title of the article. You remember the book If You GIve A Mouse A Cookie, don’t you? If you give a mouse a cookie he’ll want a glass of milk. In this case, if you give a mouse [government] a cookie [SOPA, PIPA], they’ll want a glass of milk [free speech]. It happens all the time with all sorts of laws. Before long SOPA would turn the internet into our television networks, tightly regulated and controlled, with limited user interaction.
Many of the artists we’ve promoted and respect here at secretly-important, rely heavily on websites that feature user generated content. Just yesterday I told you about Karl Blau’s new album on bandcamp, certainly they would face tighter regulations, and etsy is a predicted favorite to fall if the law passes. Maybe we’re all wrong and this bill would do exactly as they say it would, maybe the government would act responsible with this new power, maybe corporations would use logic and restraint, but I don’t want to take that chance. In this case we’re better off letting the mouse starve, and not having to fork over a cookie and a glass of milk that we just can’t afford.
So why are we not in a blackout today? Three reasons:
- No one cares about us, or at least not enough people, yet.
- I don’t know how to shut down the page or replace it with a message letting you know why we’re offline.
- This article is probably just as effective as shutting down the site for a day.
What can you do? Here are a couple of links, the first is to see where your representative stands on the issue. If you don’t like their stance write an email to let them know. The second is a blanket online petition you can sign.
Think I’m still blowing this whole thing out of proportion? Consider one last argument. According to Craigslist, Monster Cable (the guys who make high end cables for stereo’s and tv’s) list Craigslist as a “rogue site” which would be taken down under PIPA rules. Why? Because the sale of used cables on Craigslist cuts into Monster’s sales of new cables.