The Internet on Strike
hat if you can’t access a website? Is it because the server is down? Or maybe the website has been blacklisted. The dark word “censor” is everything that doesn’t allow, approve, endorse, or permit. It has never been used to describe the American internet, but some would like to see it happen. Although it may seem a funny thought, the major entertainment and music giants have pushed for the idea. Selectively banning websites would abridge a freedom we exercise daily. The consequences would be daunting. We depend on the internet so heavily to access the latest news, download music, provide entertainment, and cater to our everyday desires. It would seem unimaginable to one day read “505: Error on page” because what we searched for was forbidden information.
Pirated Copies Surfing the web, we frequently encounter digital media that has been copyrighted. The ease of piracy has multiplied DVD’s, CD’s, audio, and visuals that are protected by law in this digital age. Many people ignore the legally correct response to either buy or ask permission for use.
And since people like to share their latest YouTube videos and downloadable content, the websites are prone to be riddled with violations.
Music artists and studios take the backlash. Their companies would like to see their material spread into every home, but at a price. They take a threat to pirated copies. They don’t like to live rent-free in someone’s computer. But a digital copy does not necessarily mean a lost sale. The entertainment media thinks otherwise. It still makes the companies furious to think their profit margins have lost a dime for every dollar. So much is their anger they would like to see the internet censored.
Everything Went Black The internet went on strike on Wednesday, January 18, 2012. Black web pages protested SOPA (Stop Online Privacy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act), two bills that were up to vote in the House and Senate. English Wikipedia blocked their access for 24 hours. Google placed a linked on their webpage for a petition to “tell Congress: Please don’t censor the internet.” Web giants like Reddit, Mozilla, Twitpic, and even ICanHazCheezburger.com protested SOPA and PIPA. Click after click, web pages appeared with black streaks and messages of opposition.
In New York City, geeks stepped outside their cubicles for a walking protest. Signs read “Don’t Worry, We’re from the Internet” and “Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge.” Over 20,000 technology industry representatives, entrepreneurs, and investors joined in after emails were circulated to petition outside of congressional offices.
How It Would Work The bills were designed to thwart copyright infringement. The measures were restrictive and controlling. Under SOPA law, ISPs (Internet Service Providers) and search engines were required to block access to offending websites. If a website were found to be in violation of copyright material, it would be under the power of the Attorney General to seek a court order for this action. In other words, SOPA gave major corporations government power to censor websites without a court hearing or trial. In addition, the crime would have also been reclassified to increase severely. It would have been considered a felony to use unauthorized online streaming of material.
ISPs, advertisers, and credit card companies would have been required to stop providing their service to the offending websites. At the desire of the rights-holder, the ISPs would by law be required to either provide or deny service.
Currently, ISPs rely largely on the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) to minimize liability for the copyright infringement of their users. Without this safe harbor, companies like YouTube would be weighed down in copyright lawsuits and probably not exist. Google, Inc. referred to DMCA as the "cornerstone of the U.S. Internet and technology industry's growth and success." So long as the government did not regulate private industry, the working system was bound to flourish.
The PROTECT IP Act (S. 968) allowed intellectual property holders to fight foreign websites that infringed on American intellectual property. Although the effects were not certain, experts believed the recoil would be to American companies. It was predicted to have caused new liabilities and forced service providers to engage in censorship. It would also have required a significant amount of time monitoring user content.
Critics analyzed that the bills would threaten the functionality of the internet. Anti-piracy tactics would induce censorship of legitimate content and require ISPs to remove these websites. The risk was greater than the benefit. It would have been unchecked power to monitor and screen content if the government were to have implemented this plan. In essence, another entity had control of what to allow or disallow readers to view, download, or access.
Heavy backers of the bills were the news media and entertainment companies. Hollywood movie studios, DreamWorks, film studios, record labels, Fox News, NBC-Universal, and other news providers were in league to the ultimate override of network communication. Motion Picture Association of America lobbied for the five major film companies in Congress. Individual supporters of SOPA wanted to encourage users to purchase goods and content from legitimate sites.
How It Would Not Work The SOPA and PIPA bills proposed to police sites and to target substantial copyright infringement websites. How the method was to be carried out was not specified. The consequence of violators would be removal of the website from the domain name system that would turn names like Google into numerical addresses like 18.104.22.168. The punishment would not solve anything. Removal from the domain name would not be effective because it would still be possible to type in the numerical address into the browser and have access to the site.
Congress was trying to pass a bill that purposely did not accomplish its stated goals. To understand why, it was important to know that SOPA and PIPA were written by media companies. Since the evolution of cassette tapes, video cassette recorders and Xerox machines in the 20th century, media companies have tried to put a stop on copying and sharing.
In 1992, Congress passed the Audio Home Recording Act that put a distinction between legal and illegal copying. By definition it was permitted to make multiple copies for friends but it was illegal to make multiple high quality copies for sale.
In 1998, the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) made it legal for media companies to sell “uncopyable” digital material. The facade of this bill was that all digital material has the quality to be copied. Bits are copied by computers. The DMCA, in order to feign the idea of an “uncopyable” bit, forced consumers to purchase systems capable of breaking copying functions on devices. However, the DMCA did not have much of an effect on the internet. With the advent of internet’s newly discovered unlimited sharing capabilities, people shared unflagging amounts of video, images, audio, and written messages.
The purpose of SOPA and PIPA was to limit online sharing ability. As stated, the bills would have policed the biggest producers of content like Google and Yahoo! but in reality, it would have actually policed the user. Whenever posting would appear on the internet, policing would have been in effects and have threatened their ability to share things with others. The capping damage would have been the removal of the IP addresses.
Damage To a Free and Open Internet? The founder of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, argued SOPA and PIPA were a “threat to the core values of the web” and urged people to make their concerns known. The laws crossed too many lines, threatening the freedom of open space on the internet.
To a greater extent, the bills violated basic First Amendment Rights. Protesters were against an internet blacklist. The legislation would have taken the internet out of the hands of users and placed them under the control of corporations and governments. The consequence was a direct violation to everyone’s right to information.
The concept of the internet by Sir Tim Berners-Lee was “that anyone could share information with anyone, anywhere.” The First Amendment was written to protect exchange of ideas. James Madison stated that a government should allow the people to “arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.” In the digital age, the internet is power of knowledge.
Affects on Society? The effect would have been the reversal of “innocent until proven guilty.” It would have prevented someone from sharing something. Discretion would have been at the will of a media company to sanction or suppress a website. The decision would not have involved a trial, and still have been in complete check of government power. Then there was the issue of policing. People would have been treated like thieves every moment they accessed information. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter would have been forced to police its users. Worst off, the fact that the internet is world-wide meant the repercussions would have affect all activity world-wide. The issue went far beyond the national boundaries.
An industry body would have been able to turn off a web site. This could have had major influence on elections. Control over websites and free speech would have been damaging to the exchange of information during the voting timeframe. Berners-Lee was in favor of the Google and Wikipedia protest. He did not support similar laws already in the UK saying they disrespected human rights, most likely referring to the DEA (Digital Economy Act).
The Mom and Pop Bakery SOPA and PIPA would have raised the cost of copyright compliance that would simply force people out of the business. In Brooklyn, New York a Mom and Pop Bakery had to stop offering a free service for children to print their favorite picture on their birthday cakes. The problem was that the photos of Mickey Mouse, the Little Mermaid, and a Smurf that were printed onto a plate of sugar were copyrighted material. The hassle of policing copyright violations forced the College Bakery to stop offering the free service to amateurs. The end result was the store’s decision to sell only pre-fabricated images.
The Fallback Senators publicly against PIPA numbered six on the morning of the January 18th blackout. The count increased to 36 that same evening, only after 12 hours had elapsed. The SOPA protest caused Senate co-sponsors of the bill to regroup, incited lobbying in Washington, and prompted 2012 campaign contributions. MPAA Chairman Chris Dodd, representative of News Corp., Time-Warner, Sony and Disney, opposed the protests calling them “an abuse of power.” Due to mass response through emails and petitioning, both House and Senate versions underwent revisions. Many congressional representatives switched from their support of SOPA and some proposed alternative versions. Others planned a filibuster to prevent the bill from coming to a vote.
The sweep of opposition in Congress occurred the weekend of January 13, 2012. On Friday, both Houses had eliminated a requirement for U.S. ISPs to block foreign websites with violations of copyrighted material. Afterwards, Senators who had previously voiced support requested but were denied a delay by vote.
The Obama administration stated they would not support “several cornerstone provisions of the bill.” The entertainment industry labeled the first day of the week following as Black Sunday.
Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corporation, and a preeminent world media company tycoon, twittered a startling tantrum to the president for following "Silicon Valley paymasters" and accused Google of being a "piracy leader." The event alarmed copyright owners that culminated to Wednesday’s Blackouts. The massive social outcry in response the bills was not expected by Congress.
Those Who Fought The internet industry’s nine leading companies AOL, eBay, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Twitter, Yahoo!, and Zynga issued a letter with serious concerns about SOPA to the Congressional Committee. The letter echoed the voices of entrepreneurs, small business owners, librarians, law professors, venture capitalists, human rights advocates, cyber security experts, public interest groups, and tens of thousands of private citizens.
What concerned citizens and industry leaders the most was summarized in a list of topics. Among those were that SOPA conflicted with and undermined the DMCA. , jeopardized US companies, imposed uncertain technology mandates, exposed US PNP (Payment Network Providers) and IAS (Internet Advising Services) to private legal action, violated the First Amendment, and authorized government censorship of the internet. The letter urged members of the House Judiciary Committee to reconsider the Stop Online Piracy Act (H.R. 3261) on the basis that it would “curb innovation and job-creation.”
This was not a business-only strike. The protests were spontaneous yet widespread. Individuals and companies alike were concerned about the bill. Similar gestures to petition Congress were rampant on protesting web pages. Links were provided that contacted local representatives after an input of one’s name and zipcode. A form of such letter on wwwfreepress.com:
The “Stop Online Piracy Act,” or SOPA, gives corporations the power to blacklist websites at will. And it violates the due process rights of the thousands of Internet users who could see their sites disappear.
This bill (HR 3261) was intended to discourage illegal copyright violations, but it addresses this problem by giving corporations far too much authority over free speech on the Internet. It deputizes the private sector with broad powers to disconnect the URLs of any website corporations contend are behaving improperly.
We can’t let corporations become the Internet’s judge, jury and executioner. Please vote “no” on SOPA. It puts the open Internet at risk.
Sue Gardener, executive director of Wikipedia Foundation, praised the blackouts. A Google spokeswoman said the bills were a “smart, targeted ways to shut down foreign rogue websites without asking American companies to censor the Internet” and stated the Google logo would not be replaced in for the protest. It was censored.
Wikipedia reported 162 million visits. In addition, 8 million US readers contacted their representatives from the Wikipedia site. Google reported 4.5 million people had signed their petition by 1:30 PM PST. Twitter announced 2.4 million SOPA-related tweets by 8 PM. WordPress experienced blog blackouts of a minimum 25,000 WordPress users plus 12,500 that posted a "Stop Censorship" message.
Who’s in Charge? A company can choose to agree or turndown requests to edit their content. The government can ask for takedown of information through police departments or other government agency. Google’s transparency report showed that the U.S. government ranked first in number of these requests. Among many reasons given, the most common was defamation to government and law enforcement. The second most popular was national security. In the second instance, the government specifically wanted to remove a YouTube clip showing police brutality. Other takedown requests included the German government’s concerns about Nazi memorabilia videos. Google was able to choose based on the company’s own decision.
Countries that endorse censorship don’t worry about take-down requests. In China, Google services have been blocked completely. From January to June, YouTube was blocked in China and all Google was blocked in Libya. These countries do not rank in takedown requests because they block unwanted service completely.
Similar to Censorship Like China? The “great firewall” of China works by blocking hundreds of thousands of websites from the view of the Chinese internet. Error messages appear for blocked material reading “This page cannot be found.” Blocking is accomplished easily by eight “gateways.” Each gateway is filtered by a configured setting to block long lists of website addresses and potentially sensitive keywords. Among the filtered services are all Chinese ISPs and router or devices that transfer information between computer networks.
The Chinese regulation of their internet strives for porn-free, crime-free, and more sinisterly, prevention of any political or social that threats the government. The Chinese government also does not allow access to sites and services overseas. It assumes their citizens have no interest in politics, religion, or human rights issues and instead works to provide social networking platforms, entertainment, and useful services.
The Chinese Internet tries to mimic U.S. free internet activity. Baidu is a polular search engine that locates government-approved websites. RenRen and Kaixinwang substitute for Facebook. Sohu and Sina are blogger platforms. Weibo is a widely-used version of Twitter. QQ run by Tencent provides instant messaging, gaming, and services that work across PCs and cell phones. In 2009, the Internet Society of China awarded Baidu along with 19 other companies the “China Internet Self-Discipline Award.” They were praised for “harmonious and healthy Internet development.”
Companies are under government control and made to follow orders. Penalties progress from warnings to stiff fines, temporary shutdowns, and permanent shutdown. Each company is a tool and enforcer of the government’s objectionable material. Government employees are not hired to carry out censorship because the company is forced to do it. Both computer algorithms and human editors work to heavily monitor activity; content that is blocked is permanently deleted from the Chinese internet. Many thousands of Chinese websites have been deleted. The conditions apply to all mainland China companies as well as foreign investors. This is why Google.cn decided to pull out.
Google suffered from Chinese censorship. In 2006, Google operated outside but was subject to the firewall of China. Its users were frustrated when blank pages appeared after Chinese engineers blocked sensitive content. To accommodate to user demand, Google decided to enter the Chinese Internet and agreed to adjust its algorithms to censorship requirements. Google.cn would not include websites that were blacklisted by the government and instead sanitized its searches. Cities with recent riots, massacres, protests, and human rights or activist websites would not appear.
When Google decided to pull out in 2010, the government took action to shape public opinion. It blocked overseas Chinese-language news reports and required blog-hosting services, micro blogs, platforms, and social networking sites to take down any Google-related information. Authorities only allowed negative posts to remain, with instructions to delete texts, images, audio, sound, and video that attacked the Party, State, and government policy. Sympathizing material was to be cleaned up and manipulated.
How Was China’s Culture Affected? In conclusion, Chinese authorities boasted that over 350 million pages of “harmful content” were deleted in 2010. Government control imposes industry self-regulations. In this environment, people are denied access to facts, incidents, or ideas that are not approved by the government. Violators are subject to arrest and workers are under constant aggressive surveillance anywhere they access the internet.
Solution to Censorship Voluntary, industry-led efforts in collaboration with other companies were launched to solve the issue of copyright infringement and distribution of counterfeit goods. The company voiced that it did not support foreign rogue websites. Their solution to copyright infringement was completely private industry-driven and did not require the intervention of the government.
Updated News We have not heard the end of SOPA/PIPA. The bills were shelved indefinitely but were scheduled for revisions during the month of February. It is important to remember that the bills are not dead, and can be brought up to vote by a congressional leader. As of February 18, 2012, SOPA and PIPA are undergoing revisions in the House and Senate.
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