By Allison Schoenauer
Elm Staff Writer
If you typed in “www.wikipedia.org” on January 18, you might’ve been confused by how nothing was working. You weren’t able to navigate away from the page. If you were able to navigate from that original, dark page, you were treated to a bevy of fun facts about a pair of bills that were circulating through the United States House of Representatives and Congress; bills that would have, potentially, seriously crippled freedom of speech and personal privacy on the Internet.
The House’s Stop Online Privacy Act (or known as SOPA) and Congress’s PROTECT IP Act (or PIPA) are anti-privacy acts that are designed to fight online piracy more aggressively than its predecessor, 1996’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The biggest difference between SOPA and PIPA and DMCA is the punishment relegated to the offending party.
In SOPA, advertising networks are required to stop patronizing these websites, search engines are required to stop directing traffic to the website, and Internet service providers are required to block access to these sites. Unauthorized streaming of copyrighted material would result in up to five years in prison. PIPA makes it the federal government’s problem to deal with the companies running the offending websites.
There are, naturally, issues with these bills being so encompassing and aggressive in their tactics. The foremost is that very few companies create websites with the intention of illegal streaming or piracy. The ones that were, such as Megaupload and LimeWire, were shut down and sued into submission by the current anti-piracy laws, which are limited to companies that have servers in the United States, a limit that SOPA and PIPA are designed to overcome. All the other sites that could be negatively affected by these laws—websites such as YouTube, Tumblr, LiveJournal, Blogger, and similar sites—would be censored because of what their users do and publish, which enters the realm of freedom of speech because the foundations of those websites are user-created content.
Let’s do an experiment, shall we? Go to YouTube. Type something in the search bar—a song you like, maybe. In my version of the experiment, I used the new Jason Mraz single “I Won’t Give Up”, because it was playing on my iTunes as I wrote this. The first result is the official video, posted by Jason Mraz’s company. The next dozen or so are covers by coffee house regulars who think they can play guitar. Then, there’s a taped live performance of the song, a few fan-made videos, and more covers.
If any of these videos have links to a downloading site that is not iTunes, they would fall under PIPA’s definition of piracy and infringement. This experiment is easier with television shows, which will most likely send you to streaming sites, illegal under SOPA. I tried the experiment with “Nevermind the Buzzcocks” and found it very successful.
So, under SOPA and PIPA, YouTube goes down. YouTube will lose advertising, which will most likely result in users having to pay to use the service, Google will be required to remove it from its list of sites to send people to, and your ISPs will read the address as defunct and redirect you to some annoying page that tells you as much.
Can you live in a world without YouTube?
I don’t think I can.
I love cat videos.
For now, SOPA and PIPA have been stalled as lawmakers try to work out the kinks, but that doesn’t mean that similar laws won’t be appearing and reappearing in the next few years. Two of SOPA and PIPA’s biggest supporters are CBS and the Recording Industry Association of America. These are companies who profit off intellectual property in much the same way as YouTube, powerful companies with influence and, probably most importantly, create jobs for Americans. If these aggressive bills, however, do end up becoming laws (a process you can learn about in fun song form on YouTube, I’ve checked) there an immense price to pay: free entertainment, self-expression, and free speech.