Feeling powerless these days? You’re not. Outraged consumers forced Verizon to back off from an outrageous $2 fee for paying cell phone bills online. Now angry protests from all over the country are forcing Congress to back off from some of the worst provisions of SOPA, a law that would severely restrict free speech and the free exchange of content on the Web in the name of combating online piracy.
Slideshow: Samples of SOPA Blackout Sites
Among other provisions, the legislation would have empowered authorities to get a court order requiring U.S. service providers to block the domain name system (DNS) entries for any foreign website that was deemed to be hosting pirated content. But the volume of protests is beginning to force lawmakers to back off.
The DNS provision bit the dust Friday when sponsors of SOPA in the House, and of the similar Protect IP Act in the Senate, withdrew it. But the sibling bills are still alive, which is why there will be an unprecedented strike by Wikipedia, Reddit and thousands of much smaller Web sites on Wednesday. Google will remain up, but will proclaim its opposition to the bills on its home page, as will Scribed, the popular document hosting site. Demonstrations (of actual people) have been announced in San Francisco and New York.
Meanwhile, an anti-SOPA petition hosted on whitehouse.gov garnered 50,000 signatures and officials of the Obama administration responded with a strong statement against misguided provisions in the proposed laws.
They said, in part: “We must avoid creating new cybersecurity risks or disrupting the underlying architecture of the Internet. Proposed laws must not tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet through manipulation of the Domain Name System (DNS), a foundation of Internet security. Our analysis of the DNS filtering provisions in some proposed legislation suggests that they pose a real risk to cybersecurity and yet leave contraband goods and services accessible online.”
The anti-piracy bills are largely the creation of Hollywood and the music industry, both of which are desperate to stem the flood of pirated content on the Web. While it’s clear that piracy damages our economy, and hurts writers, artists, musicians, software makers and other “content creators” the bill is far too broad. It would, for example, make the owners of Web sites like eBay or Craig’s list liable for actions by their users, a dramatic change from existing law. Other Web sites, even those that do not act as e-commerce sites could be affected as well, and would have to monitor and control content posted by users, an impossible burden for many organizations.
Who else supports the bills? One Mr. Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp., which has admitted to hacking the phones of crime victims, politicians and others. In a number of tweets, Murdoch accused President Obama of working for the interests of his “Silicon Valley paymasters” and called Google a “piracy leader.”
SOPA and its evil sister will be kicking around Congress for a while more. There’s no better time to stand up for the Web, and more importantly, for yourself, than by letting the politicians know that they need to kill these bills and come up with a sane plan to stop online piracy.