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The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

Websites Black Out to Protest SOPA/PIPA

As the clock strikes midnight Eastern Standard Time on Wednesday, January 18, the English version of the Internet Encyclopedia Wikipedia will be shutting down its site for 24 hours in protest of the current anti-piracy legislation bills known as Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA).

Joining Wikipedia in protest will be social news and forum site Reddit, online image hosting service Imgur, Internet browser giant Mozilla and more than a thousand various other sites.

Instead of accessing these sites during the blackout, users will be redirected to pages each respective site has set up with information on SOPA/PIPA in an attempt to raise awareness for the controversial issue. Reddit will also set up an additional live stream video feed of the House of Representatives Oversight Hearing on DNS and Search Engine Blocking which will feature speakers including Reddit Co-Founder Alexis Ohanian.

Though the blackout failed to gain the support of the largest tech sites, Internet giant Google, among others, will be posting information regarding SOPA/PIPA on their homepages to join in the protest without affecting customer service and revenue.

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PIPA is the Senate version of the anti-piracy bill that was introduced on May 21 last year, which, if passed, would authorize the Department of Justice (DOJ) to seek court orders against websites outside of U.S. jurisdiction it accuses of infringing on copyrights or enabling and/or facilitating copyright infringement.

In turn, the DOJ could serve US-based Internet Service Providers (ISPs), Internet advertising services and financial transaction providers with the same court order requiring them to suspend business with the aforementioned website. The U.S. Attorney General could also then require search engines to bar results displaying links to the aforementioned website. SOPA is the House of Representative version of the same bill, which was introduced on October 26, 2011.

Wikipedia, Reddit and other protesters of SOPA/PIPA argue that the bill not only violates the First Amendment’s right of free speech and imposes a system of censorship upon the Internet society of America, but also fails to achieve the central goal of eliminating Internet Piracy.

“Within our community we’re very strong defenders of copyright,” Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said in an interview with CNN. “The issue here is that this law is very badly written, very broadly overreaching and, in at least the Senate version, would include the creation of a DNS (domain name system) blocking regime that’s technically identical to the one that’s used by China. I don’t think that’s the right way the U.S. needs to go in taking a leadership role on the Internet.”

In the interview, Wales explains that one of the provisions within PIPA, the Senate version of the bill, allows the DOJ to require ISPs to block access to sites by removing them from the Domain Name System (DNS) entry list. This practice replicates the practice the China government has of censoring their citizens.

“This legislation is aimed at requiring private U.S. entities to enforce restrictions against foreign sites but does nothing against the infringement itself,” Reddit System Administrator Jason Harvey said in his technical examination of SOPA/PIPA. “All of the enforcement actions can and will be worked around by sites focused on copyright infringement. When the dust settles, piracy will still exist, and the Internet in the U.S. will have entered the realm of federal regulation and censorship.”

Before the introduction of SOPA/PIPA, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) had been the governing law of Internet copyright and piracy throughout the 21st Century. The DMCA, which passed on October 12, 1998, allows the government and private corporations to order the removal of specific copyrighted content if a proper request was filed, evidence of ownership of the content was provided and the pages with which the copyright content is on is indicated. With the introduction of SOPA/PIPA, this process is completely revamped.

“Even [with such restrictions], this process [DMCA] is often abused,” Harvey said. “SOPA and PROTECT IP contain no provisions to actually remove copyrighted content, but rather focus on the censorship of links to entire domains. This places a measurable burden upon the site’s technical infrastructure. It also damages one of the most important tenets of Reddit, and the Internet as a whole – free and open discussion.”

Though Wikipedia and the majority of other participating sites will shut down for the entire day, Reddit has currently chosen to shut down from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, effectively shutting down for 12 hours. Regardless of the shorter length of the blackout, the Reddit community has been the front line against SOPA/PIPA.

When Internet domain registrar GoDaddy first presented it stance supporting SOPA/PIPA, Reddit launched a campaign urging the Internet community to transfer domains away from GoDaddy. The campaign successfully cost GoDaddy tens of thousands and pressured them enough to retract their original stance within one week of announcing their support for the bill.

Additionally, House of Representatives candidate Rob Zerban, with the support of Reddit, effectively forced influential conservative Republican House of Representatives incumbent Paul Ryan to withhold his support for the current version of SOPA/PIPA. Currently PIPA has the co-sponsorship of 40 Senators while SOPA has the co-sponsorship of 31 Representatives.

“Why is it that when Republicans and Democrats need to solve the budget and the deficit, there is a deadlock, but when Hollywood lobbyists pay them $94 million dollars to write legislation, people from both sides of the aisle line up to co-sponsor it?” Ohanian said in an interview with CNBC.

For Wales’ full interview with CNN, see here.

For Ohanian’s full interview with CNBC, see here.

For Harvey’s full examination of SOPA/PIPA, see here.

For the full SOPA text, see here.

For the full PIPA text, see here.

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