Wikipedia goes dark to protest proposed copyright bills

Major websites such as Wikipedia, Reddit, Twitpic and Mozilla went black yesterday in protest of the proposed PIPA and SOPA bills, which seek to protect copyrighted materials but have raised controversy because of their suggested implementation.

SOPA (H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (S. 968, the PROTECT IP Act), are attempts to stop websites from being able to host and share copyrighted materials without permission.

Websites suspected of “infringement activities” could face loss of their online advertising or use of their domain name, according to PIPA. SOPA would call for imprisonment of 10 years, a fine of no more than $2 million or both.

The bills would protect content providers like Hollywood against copyright infringements including illegal reproduction or distribution of works like motion pictures, music and computer programs.

SOPA would protect works including computer programs, musical works, motion pictures or other audiovisual works.

This means websites such as YouTube, with a large share of user-produced content including song covers of copyrighted material, would be in jeopardy.

The blackouts were intended to illustrate the possible effects if the bills were passed, many websites would simply have to shut down because they could no longer allow users to freely upload content.

Awareness was an essential part of the day, with blacked-out websites providing information on the bills.

Google blacked out its logo in support of the protests, and Wikipedia presented a dark page with information about the protest whenever a user tried to search for something. Mozilla, the maker of the popular browser Firefox, redirected traffic from its main page to an action page against the bills for 12 hours yesterday.

“Mozilla is also changing the look of the default Firefox start page so that the tens of millions of Firefox users will see a black page with a call to action message to increase awareness of PIPA/SOPA, rather than the traditional white page with the Firefox logo,” a Mozilla public relations representative said in an email. “We hope the blackout of our U.S. sites will help bring attention to this important issue and encourage users to educate themselves about PIPA and SOPA.”

President Barack Obama announced Saturday that he would not support SOPA or PIPA, and prominent Republican senators Marco Rubio and John Cornyn backed away from the bills yesterday after initially supporting it.

Marquette professor of journalism James Scotton said the bills are evidence of copyright holders’ increasing power.

“SOPA is just one part of the battle between people who own copyrights and the people who want to use them at the lowest possible cost,” Scotton said.

Scotton said the problem is that Congress is focusing on the most visible part of the problem of online piracy, instead of focusing on the real issue at hand, the relationship between copyrighted material and its users.

“Congress and the courts prevent public access to intellectual property except at prohibitive costs,” he said. “This is not good for the cultural health of our society.”

Scotton said the goals of SOPA and PIPA are contradictory.

“Congress wants to promote learning, but protect copyright holders,” he said. “SOPA is not going to help learning.”

Jason Ladd, Marquette’s assistant director of instrumental music, said that in music there are people who are for and against the bills, but said he believes that copyright should be enforced differently.

“A lot of musicians and music writers don’t want what they create on YouTube or other websites without their permission,” Ladd said. “But the enforcement (of PIPA and SOPA) could make it much worse … (and) create a lot of havoc.”

David Sohn, general counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, a civil liberties group that promotes open Internet access, said the center acknowledges the issues SOPA attempts to address but believes it may risk too much.

“We recognize there is a real problem with online trademark copyright infringement, but the legislation risks collateral damage to important values,” Sohn said.

Sohn said there is a vote on PIPA scheduled for Jan. 24, with last-minute tweaking to the bill possible. Sohn does not believe the changes would help much.

“Last minute changes may not deal with what’s required,” he said. “Especially since those doing the tweaking denied there were problems in the first place. Congress needs to step back and take this off the fast track.”

Dennis Brylow, a Marquette assistant professor of computer science, said some of the proposed tactics in the bill, such as disabling DNS — domain name system, a vital part of the infrastructure of the Internet — could be damaging economically and potentially time consuming.

“While disabling DNS is technically feasible, it would be a logistical nightmare,” Brylow said. “(The) legislation as it’s written can’t even estimate how much this could cost if passed in current form. It’s easy to have legislation that says, ‘We’ll do this thing’ without having to consult with people who may have to implement that.”