SOPA & PIPA: Why are my favorite sites blacked out today?

The internet is a wild and woolly place – the entire world lives online in ways that defy traditional ideas of jurisdiction, which in the 20th century and earlier we defined as a physical location.  With the rise of participation on the web, things get very complicated when people in any country attempt to legislate online behavior.

That’s why, today, many sites are protesting this legislation by giving you a little taste of what it will be like should laws like SOPA and PIPA pass: when U.S.-based sites are forced by other sites and companies to censor parts of the internet that provide access (however hidden, oblique, or unintentionally provided through user-generated content) to “pirated” content, there will be little of the internet left to access or use altogether.

While the concept of “pirating” content is itself is hugely problematic in today’s remix culture, this legislation could inadvertently pit site against site and company against company… miring them in court battles where they would attempt to shut competitors down.  It would also prevent you from sharing pictures of your new puppy or participating on fan forums online as sites with user-generated content like Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, and others would be obligated to ensure that there is absolutely NO infringing content OR information about how to access infringing content on their ENTIRE SITE.  Also, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) would be able to block IP addresses originating in other countries if they have “good faith” belief that THOSE sites provide access to infringing content.  That seems like it would lead to a lot of preemptive censoring of wide swaths of the internet just so that ISPs wouldn’t get dragged into court for potentially running afoul of these new laws.

Libraries should care deeply about legislation like this, and follow it closely.  Institutions that are about creating, examining, and consuming culture should defend people’s access to the same.  It’s a complicated issue – for every creator who claims that other people are profiting off of copies of their original work, there’s another who is relieved that a new-found popularity is lifting their creative product out of obscurity and becoming part of the larger culture (see the MLP:FIM fandom as a great example of how “piracy,” fan art, and other “infringing” activities have been embraced by creators).  So painting all “infringing” activities with a broad brush that can be wielded by almost anybody as a tool to shut down competitors seems a bad way to go about addressing the issue.

Find out more at the CNET roundup here, or over here at Gizmodo.  And do it fast – if SOPA passes, I’ll probably have to take these links down (if WordPress still exists at that point).

If you’d rather watch a video, here’s a great one!

 

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.