The blacklist legislations and the big furore

If you’ve seen tried to access Wikipedia, Reddit, Craigslist or related sites today, you will have noticed that they have been blacked out. This is in protest of a couple legislations that the US Government wants to pass : the Stop Online Piracy Act/E-PARASITE Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA). Websites are going up in arms and encouraging internet users to oppose the legislation.

So what is the SOPA/PIPA? They are bills aimed at stopping copyright infringement mainly by foreign websites. This act gives freedom to the rights holders to blacklist a site and even cut off payments to the blacklisted sites and stop advertisers to cut ties with the site by simply sending a notice.

Wikipedia says:

“The originally proposed bill would allow the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as copyright holders, to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. Depending on who makes the request, the court order could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators from doing business with the allegedly infringing website, barring search engines from linking to such sites, and requiring Internet service providers to block access to such sites. The bill would make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content a crime, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison for ten such infringements within six months. The bill also gives immunity to Internet services that voluntarily take action against websites dedicated to infringement, while making liable for damages any copyright holder who knowingly misrepresents that a website is dedicated to infringement.”

So why all the hue and cry about it? Here is some detail about the concerns regarding the act. The Electronic Frontier Foundation says:

“These bills are targeted at “rogue” websites that allow indiscriminate piracy, but use vague definitions that could include hosting websites such as Dropbox, MediaFire, and Rapidshare; sites that discuss piracy such as pirate-party.us, p2pnet, Torrent Freak, torproject.org, and ZeroPaid; as well as a broad range of sites for user-generated content, such as SoundCloud, Etsy, and Deviant Art. Had these bills been passed five or ten years ago, even YouTube might not exist today — in other words, the collateral damage from this legislation would be enormous.”

There is a lot of hungama going on nowadays, with governments trying to wrest more control over the internet. Governments have fallen (Egypt, Libya, Syria) because of people’s protests that were all organised on the internet. Much closer home, the unrest about the Lokpal bill was all organised on facebook, twitter and sms itself. The Indian government wants user generated sites to monitor their content and has even threatened to block sites like facebook and google. This is a hint of fear in the people at the top about the power of internet media. Unlike newspapers or the television, anyone, anytime can communicate with a large number of people and even organise a protest very quickly. This mass organising capability has really amazed the world. So they now want to censor the internet and curb our rights.

So who will win the battle? The policymakers or the internet? That only time will tell.

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