If you tried to use the Internet on Wednesday, you may have noticed that a lot of your favorite sites, like Wikipedia, were down. Even Google changed its logo with a big black ‘censored’ bar. All of those outages were in protest of legislation before the U.S. Congress, which could change the laws on how the government deals with stolen content on websites, known as SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act, HR 3261) in the House of Representatives and PIPA (Protect IP Act, S 968) in the Senate.
Opponents claim that this proposed legislation is too intrusive, that it will eliminate a lot of good content and chill new attempts at innovation and online speech. They say that the burden of responsibility shifts with the legislation, which criminalizes content providers (both online communities like YouTube and DeviantArt, search engines like Google and Yahoo!, or even institutions like public libraries) for linking to or ‘facilitating’ access to protected content. The burden of responsibility would be on them to show how they were not violating copyright, rather than on an accuser. And the penalties are stiff – an entire domain (say, YouTube) could possibly be legally blocked or removed for even one objectionable video posted by one user.
Proponents claim that the legislation will protect valid copyrights, and thus encourage creators to continue making things like movies, music, and artwork. Its goal is to ensure that these creators are fairly compensated for their creations. The legislation is also supported by pharmaceutical companies, who fear that generic drugs are being sold online by vendors fraudulently promoting them under copyrighted brand names.
For the most part, media companies support the bills and technology companies oppose them. Both are using all of their political clout to pass or defeat them. What the actual content of the bills will be is in flux. The protests have cost the bills congressional supporters, and even the authors of those bills are offering rewritten provisions. Both houses of Congress postponed votes on the legislation Friday.
So, what are you to believe? Fortunately, we can help you cut through the hype, so you can examine the facts for yourself. The legislation is online and available for perusal at the Library of Congress (SOPA and PIPA). Major news vendors such as CNN have been covering the story, and the IU East Library lets you follow the developing story in newspapers from around the world through our Newspaper Source database. Or look at the business effects in our communications and business databases. Or, get caught up in the debate. Read contentious opinions on the Opposing Viewpoints in Context database. Read Wikipedia’s (a major leader in the grassroots anti-SOPA campaign) argument on the issue on their website. They also describe their widely used blackout tactic.
So, whether you’re for it or against it, be informed! Good information is a crucial tool for an informed citizenry.