Jan. 22, 2012: SOPA/PIPA bit the dust. Does it matter?

Two weeks ago, I highlighted the growing discontent over the SOPA and PIPA bills and the “nuclear option” that some of the internet’s largest companies were considering to stop it. On Wednesday, that plan came to fruition, with Wikipedia, Google, and Craigslist, among others taking a very visual, public stance against the bills — Google placed an obvious black censorship bar over its own logo, while Craigslist blacked out its own site and Wikipedia shut down its entire English encyclopedia for 24 hours. (I’m obligated and pleased to mention that my fiancee, Rebecca Ivic, was quoted in a local article on the subject.) The plan seems to have worked, as political support for SOPA/PIPA abruptly fell apart in the days that followed. The bills aren’t necessarily dead yet, but they appear to have minimal chance of passing in the near future, particularly given the Obama administration’s recent statement that “While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.”

That, however, is hardly the end of the story. As many on the web celebrated the apparent collapse of SOPA/PIPA on Thursday, the U.S. government was ironically shutting down prominent file-sharing site Megaupload. Founder Kim Schmitz was found in New Zealand hiding with a gun in a safe room; authorities stormed his mansion, and extradition proceedings are already underway to ship him back to the U.S. on criminal charges. This all begs the question of why SOPA and PIPA were needed in the first place, if Megaupload could be shut down and its founder arrested in a foreign country without the greater SOPA/PIPA governmental powers in place. Still, some would undoubtedly argue that the process took far too long, given that the company has been well-known for making piracy relatively easy since its creation in 2005. Either way, 4chan-based hacker group Anonymous retaliated with denial of service (DoS) attacks against such websites as the U.S. Department of Justice, FBI, Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Some hailed Anonymous’ retaliation as a righteous stroke against governmental tyranny over free speech on the internet. Others lamented it as an overreaction to the “bait” of the Megaupload arrests, saying that it changed the conversation over internet freedom back to one about limiting unlawful chaos, stymieing any momentum built through Wednesday’s successful anti-SOPA/PIPA blackout. Besides, if Megaupload is guilty for what its users did — even if Megaupload itself did little to stop piracy on its site — then other file-sharing sites may be at similar risk. Furthermore, all this may create a path forward for the competing OPEN bill which also provides more power to combat “willful” piracy, even if it is quite limited compared to SOPA/PIPA.

In the meantime, a very different political battle has seen Mitt Romney trying to complete his veritable stranglehold over the Republican presidential nomination by taking a third straight win in South Carolina (an apparent mis-count in the Iowa caucuses notwithstanding — most voters will likely still remember Romney as the victor, not Rick Santorum). If he is successful, it is likely that most voters will see Romney’s victory as inevitable, abandoning other candidates in order to limit further infighting between the nominees. Rick Perry, once Romney’s strongest competitor, has already suspended his campaign, although his voters may shift to rival Newt Gingrich rather than Romney, threatening a quick finish to the primary season. If Gingrich is able to wrest South Carolina from Romney’s clutches, we could be in for a long fight between the would-be challengers to incumbent Barack Obama. This whole issue is further complicated by poor weather plaguing yesterday’s primary. With vote counts likely to be low, the winner of this close race will be all the more difficult to predict.

Perhaps you find the battle over the climate change theory to be more important. Given the extreme nature of last year’s weather and the economic damage it caused, scientists are dueling with one another about the impact of using hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas from shale rather than continuing to use coal as an energy source. Elsewhere, researchers are using a genetically engineered microbe to convert seaweed into ethanol, which would reduce the need to use corn crops for the same purpose. In South Carolina, a plan to guard against rising sea levels has drawn substantial public criticism for being based on the United Nations’ reports. After all, critics argue, the multiple “climategate” scandals have thrown the entire field of climate change research in doubt. Despite such resistance, however, the theory remains a powerful legislative force in other domains, thanks in no small part to the potential agricultural consequences that climate change could have. Given that the scientific and political conflicts are far from over, we’ll just have to continue watching the climate change battles as they unfold.

If you’re more interested in conflicts on the gridiron than the political front, you’ll certainly want to watch tonight’s battles for the AFC and NFC Championships. The Baltimore Ravens’ top-notch defense will try to lock down the dynamic passing offense of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, while the New York Giants, surprise contenders who stunned the 15-1 Green Bay Packers last Sunday, work to keep the surge alive against the San Francisco 49ers, who slipped past the similarly high-octane New Orleans Saints’ offense in their divisional showdown.

That’s enough for this week… we’ll keep things relatively short for a change. See you all next Sunday!

Other articles of interest:
Larry Page wasn’t lying about the Google+ engagement numbers
Damning Evidence Emerges In Google-Apple “No Poach” Antitrust Lawsuit
Take virtual girlfriend on real-world date with 3DS
U.S. Ends Chevy Volt Battery Fire Probe
Scientists find monkey long believed extinct in Indonesian jungles
Protection for fragile sea turtles
Time may be up for the leap second
Leap second granted extra time
1 in 5 Americans Had Mental Illness in 12-Month Period
Turkish Hospital Performs Triple Limb Transplant
Melinda Star Guido: California’s Tiniest ‘Miracle Baby’ Goes Home
Woman With 2 Uteruses Delivers 2 Babies
Meeting to address bird flu research impasse: WHO

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2 responses to “Jan. 22, 2012: SOPA/PIPA bit the dust. Does it matter?”

  1. klingermajoshua says :

    I definitely think it’s wrong to pirate music and what not but to shut down major search engines such as Google, wikipedia, and many others would be a disaster. We’re so used to/relying on search engines and data sharing online that if we were to shut them down it would destroy us. Sure, research in college would take a lot longer and we would have to get over it but I think SOPA is crazy! At the very least the government should allow all of the companies that have copyrights on their material go through google directly, or any other share/search engine, and charge or give permission for them to use them. We have the freedom of press and speech so we should have every right to post/share what we want. I say just copyright anything that is used to make a profit.

    • brianbritt says :

      Your point is well-taken, Josh. (I’m also impressed that you found my continuing blog that emerged from last semester’s COM 315 class — kudos!) The biggest issue with SOPA/PIPA was the potential breach against our freedom of speech, and my opinion is that it went much too far in giving authorities the power to shut down suspected offenders. It seemed like putting the verdict before the trial, to be honest. Not to mention, of course, the collateral damage that SOPA/PIPA were set to inflict on search engines and the infrastructure of the internet in general.

      With that said, I at least understand the basis for the legislation. Realistically, it took them years to shut down Megaupload, when people across the internet have known about its nonchalant acceptance of piracy on its systems for ages. In some respect, the current copyright protection laws are a little underpowered… in theory, they give copyright holders the ability to obtain cease and desist orders against those who facilitate piracy, but generally there’s no punishment for the offenders once they take down the specific material for which they received a court order, even if they still host all sorts of other pirated materials.

      In short, there has been no substantial penalty for pirating (or for general file-sharing sites primarily used to share pirated media). SOPA/PIPA was probably an attempt to correct that, but one which went a step too far against civil liberties. I can understand the legislators’ reasoning, but in my view, the bills they drafted were ultimately ill-advised.

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