SOPA Update: Blackouts, PACs and a Little Bit of IronyJanuary 13, 2012 11:37 am ·
It’s been a little while since the last update on the controversial bill that experts have said will make the United States no different than “China, Malaysia, and Iran.” Since its introduction by Congressman Lamar Smith, Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)—and its Senate companion bill, the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA)—has encountered considerable resistance from a public that is concerned about the legislation’s impact on Internet freedom.
As the public outcry has become increasingly impossible to ignore, a number of big name companies have joined the opposition. Among those opposed to the two bills are companies like Google, Facebook, and Wikipedia. And in taking a firm stance against SOPA and PIPA, these companies have given the opposition a degree of influence that it didn’t previously have.
The Internet Goes On Strike
Taking the lead with this newly acquired power is Reddit. The site announced Tuesday that it would no longer stand by as the “freedom, innovation, and economic opportunity that the Internet enables is in jeopardy.” To send its message of disapproval, the site will be blacking out on January 18th from 8am to 8pm, Eastern Time.
“Instead of the normal glorious, user-curated chaos of reddit, we will be displaying a simple message about how the PIPA/SOPA legislation would shut down sites like reddit, link to learn more, and suggest ways to take action,” a Reddit blog post announced.
As a result, other sites opposed to SOPA and PIPA are beginning to consider joining what TIME has dubbed the Great Internet Strike of 2012.
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has expressed his interest in coordinating a Wikipedia blackout at the same time. Although it has been rumored that Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo, PayPal, Amazon and even Google are discussing a collective blackout, nothing definitive has been offered by the sites themselves. Nevertheless, the very idea of an Internet without Google or social media has already sparked discussion about the impact a day without the Internet’s most popular sites would have.
“[J]ust try to imagine an Internet without Google, Facebook or Yahoo,” suggested TIME’s Graeme McMillan.
While those of us who already oppose SOPA and PIPA might initially be elated at the idea of such a powerful message being sent to Capitol Hill, those who are still in the dark about the SOPA debate may not respond in kind. That is, if the purpose of this effort is to educate the masses and add to the ranks of the opposition, blacking out the world’s favorite websites all at once could ultimately backfire. On the other hand, if every site that goes dark next week were to follow Reddit’s lead by redirecting users to information that will educate them on the greater purpose of the protest, it could prove effective.
In the end, no matter how impressive a massive blackout may be, the action these sites decide to take should have one purpose—getting people to see the very real consequences of letting SOPA and PIPA become law.
Tech PACs Blur the Message
While the support of major websites gives hope to the SOPA/PIPA opposition, such support is not as unambiguous as one might hope. In fact, while Microsoft, eBay, Google, GoDaddy, Yahoo and Amazon have all voiced their opposition to both bills, the money coming out of their respective Political Action Committees seems to see things a bit differently.
After an in-depth analysis of the Federal Election Commission’s collection of data kept at OpenSecret.org, ReadWriteWeb’s Dave Copeland discovered that the PACs for these six companies have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to none other than the authors and co-sponsors of SOPA and PIPA.
Senator Orrin Hatch, one of the most outspoken supporters of the unpopular bills, was the largest beneficiary, receiving $15,500 in campaign donations from the PACs of these six companies.
Such a glaring conflict of interests leaves one to wonder out of which side of the mouth these companies are telling the truth.
Is the opposition voiced by these companies legitimate? Or are they simply hoping to appease consumers with feign outrage while their lesser-known PACs encourage legislators to move forward with these draconian bills?
SOPA’s First Suspect
Meanwhile, what makes this legislation increasingly deplorable is the fact that the author of the legislation already struggles to follow current copyright law.
According to a report from Vice’s Jamie Lee Curtis Taete, Congressman Lamar Smith’s campaign website (as it appeared on July 24, 2011) failed to provide proper attribution to the photographer whose background image the site featured.
Perhaps the best test for this type of legislation would be to determine whether the hypocritical authors of these bills are capable of following their own rules.