By Drew Wilson
If one were to ask Internet advocates some of the most significant achievements of the Internet in recent memory, there is a good chance that the day the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) was stopped would be brought up amongst those achievements. We take a look at what was so controversial about the proposed laws and how the Internet stood up to compel US lawmakers to shelve the plans.
We’ve been reviewing some of the largest stories surrounding the Internet in the last few years. First, we reviewed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which is currently under negotiations, then we touched on the more mysterious and new trade agreement called the Trans-Atlantic Partnership Agreement (TAPA), and then looked at the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). While all of these agreements represent what many call a threat to the Internet, today, we thought we’d touch on one of the Internets biggest political success stories – the stopping of the US governments Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).
Just looking at the Wikipedia entry shows that there was a lot going on with the bill politically speaking. In fact, one could write a novel explaining what happened throughout 2011 and 2012. Introduced by Republican lawmaker Lamar Smith in October of 2011, the bill would have allowed the blocking of websites accused of copyright infringement at the ISP level, compel advertising companies and payment processors including banking, credit cards and other online payment methods to block their services from accused infringing websites, and pressure search engines to also stop linking to accused infringing websites.
All of this and more caused Internet advocates to raise alarm bells that the United States was going to institute a sort of “Great Firewall of America” because it had similarities to infamous Chinese Internet censorship (often referred to as the “Great Firewall of China”). Concerns about privacy thanks to deep-packet inspection drew criticism from privacy advocates. Security experts were also alarmed at the impact such legislation would have on the Domain Name System because censorship would be at the DNS level. Some security experts even went so far as to say that such censorship would damage the foundation of a large segment of the Internet partly because there would be motivation to use different DNS services to access what was otherwise blocked at the ISP level – thus the accusation that it could fracture the Internet as a whole.
Of course, the Internet fought back with protests similar to the New Zealand blackout protests. Websites began blacking out their websites to help raise awareness of what impact such legislation could really have on the Internet. Once Reddit, Wikipedia and, to some extent, Google, took part, hundreds of thousands of websites joined in as an act of solidarity to fight the legislation. Millions of people expressed their concerns through contacting their representatives, signing petitions, protesting on the streets, blogging about it and sharing their thoughts on social networking to name a few things people did.
While proponents fought hard to keep the legislation alive, the legislation was ultimately shelved as of January of 2012 amidst the massive protests and demonstrations. Observers point out that the shelving of the legislation was the point that the people of the Internet proved that they could easily be a powerful force in Washington.
Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85