SOPA and PIPA

The two four letter words above are not, as some may think, the main characters of a new Swedish thriller about to reach our TV screens. Nor are they swear words; well, not to everybody. Not yet.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock with no Internet connection over the last week or so, you’ll probably have heard all about SOPA and PIPA which are two pieces of legislation currently going through the Houses of Congress and Senate.  A lot of people are protesting about this, including Wikipedia for 24 hours.

If you want a technical analysis of SOPA, then have a read of this analysis by Dr Leonard M Napolitano, Jr, who is Director of Computer Sciences and Information Systems at Sandia National Laboratories.  My thanks to a Berkeley graduate student for the link to the above and a non-technical summation with the minimum of jargon which will be very helpful to those whose eyes glaze over when reading about tech stuff.

For information on PIPA, you can watch this short (3m52s) YouTube video:

In fact, the Internet is awash with lots of coverage and technical analysis of both Acts and why the blackouts and protest banners are happening.  There’s also been some very big names, such as Google, the Editor of Boing Boing on Al Jazeera and some guys called Mark Zuckerberg speaking out against SOPA, who got 75000 “likes” to his comment in just 10 minutes – popular guy!  Well, according to RT.com the blackout of Wikipedia, Boing Boing, et al has been a resounding success (video for the report is embedded on the page, or can be downloaded).

The real point is that the Internet was developed (initially by the US Military for its own purposes) to be an open, well-connected, multiply redundant system for connecting data nodes in such a way to all but guarantee the unimpeded flow of information from point to point over such a vast network.  It’s grown from being a way to ensure military communications in the event of a Nuclear War that has thankfully not come to pass… to a way for people to communicate and transfer ideas, information, products and messages at near instantaneous speeds over vast distances.

Now, people may have different attitudes to online piracy, but the Tweedledum a Tweedledee of US Internet legislation would, if they became law, allow the filtering of the information available to the general public in a manner not seen outside of far more restrictive and totalitarian countries such as North Korea, Iran or China.  Now that is a somewhat ironic situation for a country which has the First Amendment as such an iconic piece of legislation,  which is deeply felt and revered by the vast majority of it’s population.  Talking of free speech, this is also bad for writers as Chuck Wendig points out most eloquently and there’s now also an open letter by many different Artists and Creators, inclding Neil Gaiman, MGMT, Trent Reznor  and Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame.

Edit to add this paragraph: Going back to the issue of piracy for a second, I’ve just found an article about how copyright holders are conning Congress by providing data which not merely contains errors, but downright lies.  Big businesses telling fibs to better their own positions, I hear you say?  Surely not!

Even worse, this legislation could result in those who link to other parts of the Internet being liable to fines or jail time.  Yeah, you read that right – for creating a link.  Hell, I’ve put about a dozen or more links in this article already; if even one of those links points towards copyright disputed content, I could end up being imprisoned as a result of it under this new legislation.  In short, this could potentially destroy the connectivity of the Internet, which is is what makes it work so well in the first place.

I was going to finishing off this article with something along the lines of “Tim Berners-Lee must be despairing right now,” but instead there may well be light at the end of the tunnel given that the Obama administration said that it “will not support” any bill “that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.” However, as the EFF points out, while the current incarnations of SOPA and PIPA may not last the legislative course, they may well regenerate in a new guise and come back, like an Internet version of The Master.  I just hope that the TARDIS appears in the nick of time to save us all.

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